As a Montessori educator in training, Isil, from Smiling like Sunshine sees sensory activities as central to growing creative and thinking kids. Here's why:
A child is exposed to sensorial experiences from the time she is born. She sees, hears, feels and tastes. Sensorial experiences are everywhere and she absorbs them all. As she grows, she gradually starts classifying all those inputs.
The primary purpose of the sensorial activities is to help a child in this effort to sort out the many and varied impressions given by the senses. By exploring sensorial materials, children gain knowledge and start to think of things in the abstract.
Sensorial activities give the child the chance to have a hands-on manner to understand the world. They also encourage the child to focus her attention on specific sounds, smells, sights, tastes, and tactile impressions; and to make comparisons and decisions based on this sensory information. This stimulates new brain nerve networks and develops skills such as observation, comparison, judgment, reasoning, and decision-making.
A Sensory Vocabulary
Just talking about everything they see, hear, touch, smell, and taste will heighten the child's awareness. Children will learn words like bright, bold, dark, clear, heavy, solid, as well as colours when they play with water, mud, jelly or rice. They will learn words like sour, spicy, salty, sweet, and tangy when they explore how things taste. They will learn words like heavy, heavier, light, lightest when they weigh things.
Sensory Activities for Fine Motor Control and Calm
They also develop their fine motor skills whilst playing with play dough, picking buried treasures out of the sand. Sensory experiences also help calm a child. Water play is our go to activity when nothing else works.
Making Sensory Activities at Home
|Treasure Basket set up for babies out of kitchen items.
In today's world, the sensorial experiences seem to have decreased compared with the past. The plastic or synthetic toys in the market don't offer great sensory experiences, but we can make our own sensory toys at home.
Sensory bins or trays are great for encouraging sensory play at home. They are also very easy to set up. Beans, corns, shredded paper, water, oatmeal, wheat or pasta shapes (whatever you have in your cupboard!) can be used as a base and then depending on the theme, you could add small objects. If it is an Easter sensory bin, add eggs, bunnies etc and don't forget a scoop or a tong/tweezer to further enhance the exploration.
Sensory activities can be messy! So covering the floor or carpet with a splash mat is helpful. But the benefits of these activities to the child definitely outweigh the extra work involved in clean-up.
For babies and toddlers up to two years old, treasure baskets are a great way to do some sensorial exploration. It is important that the baskets are filled with sensorial items like wooden eggs, brushes, natural sponges, leather or fur scraps, knitted toys, shells etc.
If your older child feels secure with a blindfold, you can put together a mystery bag with a few small familiar items. This way, the child can guess the objects by isolating her visual senses. The blindfold can also be used with bells, sound cylinders and smelling bottles.
Nature and Outdoor Play Sensory Activities
The nature walks in a sensory garden, forest or a beach also provide lots of sensorial experiences. The children can play with stones, rocks, write on sand or just enjoy feeling it whilst walking on the beach.
If you are interested in Montessori education, Montessori classrooms have a unit dedicated to sensorial materials. They not only offer sensorial experiences but also develop dexterity and some of them also teach children basic geometric concepts as well.
Disclaimer:Please always observe babies and young toddlers who are still at the mouthing stage during sensory play.
Isil Simsek is studying Montessori Education. She is originally from Turkey, but currently lives in England with her two children and husband. She blogs at Smiling Like Sunshine about natural family living, early years education, and play. You can also find her on facebook.