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Sensory Play and Your Preschooler

Sensory play can help children learn skills. Look at how preschool sensory activities help your child to develop new abilities and grow as an early learner.

Your preschooler is a curious kid. They’re into everything and can’t seem to stop exploring. While the need to touch, taste, and smell anything in arm’s reach means that your young child requires constant supervision, experiencing their environment can also help children to build new skills.

Take a look at how preschool sensory activities can help your child to develop new abilities and grow as an early learner.

Definition of Sensory Play

What is sensory play? While it might seem like simple exploration, this type of play provides young children with the opportunity to learn through experiencing everything around them. Sensory play falls into several different categories, depending on what and how the child explores through the activity. These include play based on each one of the senses:

  • Sight. These activities include anything to do with sight. They range from exploring pictures in books to viewing art hung on the wall (and everything in between).
  • Smell. These activities include exploring new and known scents.
  • Touch. These activities involve exploring textures. The child can experience how different items feel in their hands, create new textures in the art area, or discuss new texture words (such as hard, soft, fuzzy, ridged, or bumpy).
  • Taste. These activities include eating and drinking.
  • Hearing. These activities include auditory processing, such as listening to music or distinguishing between different sounds.

Sensory play doesn’t always happen as an isolated activity. Preschool educators often combine these activities (such as sight and texture in one art activity) or integrate them within larger open-ended play experiences and lessons.

Science and Sensory Play

Sensory play activities overlap with the science area, helping young children to better understand concepts and ideas. By exploring through the senses, the child learns about the scientific process. They form a hypothesis, make observations, collect data (by exploring through the senses), and create conclusions.

Not only can the young child learn about scientific concepts through sensory play, but these activities also help to make new cognitive connections. These can result in increased problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

Language and Sensory Play

The young child builds life-long communication skills during their preschool days. Sensory play adds to language development, helping the child to express themselves through new words. By exploring through the senses, the child makes discoveries that often require some sort of explanation. As the child has new sensory experiences, they can also develop a new sensory vocabulary.

Skills and Sensory Play

By extending one type of sensory play into another area, the preschool teacher helps the child to integrate different sources of information. This leads to cognitive growth in areas such as problem-solving and memory/recall development.

How can preschool teachers help children to integrate the senses through combined activities? A couple of possibilities include making a scented painting (incorporating sight, touch, and smell) or dancing (incorporating sight, hearing, and touch). The possibilities for combining the different senses are almost endless.

Physical Development and Sensory Play

Exploring through the senses can also help the preschooler to build both fine (small) and gross (large) motor skills.

For example, open-ended, texture-based feeling play requires the child to use their hands to make discoveries and explore their environment. Whether they’re finger painting, digging in a rice bin, or creating a texture collage using different types of materials, the child also builds fine motor abilities, such as dexterity and eye-hand coordination.

Sensory activities that require moving through space (such as dancing to music while listening) can also help the child to build physical skills. These activities improve gross motor abilities such as balance, coordination, and muscle strength.

Are you looking for a preschool program that supports your child’s sensory growth? Contact the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati for more information.

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