One of the wonderful things about play for children is that it is actually a way for them to grow and develop new connections in their brains.
Many parents have started to incorporate sensory play into their children’s daily routines since sensory play helps little ones learn more about the big, exciting world surrounding them.
What exactly is sensory play and why is it important for infants?
Sensory play is not just a whole lot of fun - it also encourages children to use their senses to understand how their actions affect what goes on around them. It supports brain development as they begin to connect with what they see, hear, touch and experience. Physically, they refine their motor skills as they pick up items, stack them, or move them around.
It may be surprising to know that sensory play can also help children to calm down and regulate their emotions.
When can I start sensory activities for infants?
Children are ready for sensory play from birth. Babies enjoy the feeling of warm water on their skin, or giggle when you blow raspberries on their tummies. They may track twinkling lights with their gaze. All kinds of interesting stimuli may be fascinating to babies, particularly in the first year when their little brains grow rapidly.
The benefits of sensory activities for early childhood development are well established in research. The best infant care centres and preschools include sensory activities to strengthen neural development and exercise motor skills.
What equipment do I need for sensory play?
You may be surprised to learn that you do not need any specialised equipment to introduce sensory play at home. A simple basin or tray is a great start to keep your little one focused on the items inside.
One great thing about sensory play is that you can use many recycled materials like paper rolls, torn magazine strips, bottles and bottle caps, clean medicine spoons and ice cream sticks.
Be mindful to avoid choking hazards like small buttons or beads, and remember that babies should always be supervised by an adult during sensory play activities.
Plain or coloured dried pasta can be poured into a shallow tub or basin for children to dig through. Try a mix of shapes like macaroni and fusilli.
You can also include some toys in the bin of pasta like wooden blocks or animal shapes for your little one to “find”. Scoops, spoons, and sand rakes are also perfect for older babies to interact with the dried pasta.
For a slightly messier option, cooked and drained spaghetti can also be fun for children to play with. Dye small batches of cooked spaghetti with a couple of drops of food dye to make it more colourful.
Do take note that a little goes a long way with food colouring, and that some types may stain clothing and skin temporarily.
Water is always a wonderful option for sensory play. Pour some water into a food tray or a shallow bin and toss some interesting objects in - scoops, empty bottles, or a small plastic watering can!
Soft, clean sponges are intriguing to children as they learn how sponges soak up water and can be squeezed to get water out. A couple of ice cubes and small medicine bottles filled with warm water can even provide an opportunity to learn about different temperatures.
Many parents will purchase board books with different textured pages to engage their babies, but you can make a simple version on one piece of cardboard that your child can interact with.
Stick different items on a piece of cardboard or poster board: pompoms, ice cream sticks, felt, velcro strips, bubble wrap and honeycomb wrapping paper are some popular options for baby to touch and feel.
Be sure to attach things that are safe for baby to mouth at, and that are not choking hazards, in case they come off the board.
Parents often observe wryly that babies would rather play with remote controls and tissue boxes than the expensive wooden toys that they have so carefully and lovingly picked out.
Capitalise on this by filling an empty tissue box with random items: bottle caps, toilet paper rolls cut into smaller rounds, and some of their smaller toys that can fit through the hole in the top. Even torn strips from a magazine would entertain - and keep your children away from the real tissue boxes!
Your little one can stuff the box, or reach in to pull items out.
A light box is easy to make yourself. A frosted or translucent rectangular plastic bin is perfect for this.
Place a string of LED lights inside it and tape or secure the lid of the bin. Translucent, coloured magnetic tiles are great to place on top of the box and watch the light shine through. You can also cut shapes from coloured cellophane to place on top of the box.
Another interesting option is to fill zip-top bags with some coloured water (use food colouring or drops of baby-safe paint), seal the tops with tape, and lay them on top of the light box for baby to squish, prod, and look at.
This activity is simple to make, but it requires some prior preparation.
Fill a large, shallow dish with durable toys like plastic bricks, bottle caps or teething rings. Make enough jelly (use clear agar-agar or Jello as coloured jelly can stain clothes and skin) to fill the tray and cover most of the toys and refrigerate until solid.
Your baby will have lots of fun digging through the jelly with bare hands to uncover the items inside.
Exploring sensory play at infant care
Some KiddiWinkie Schoolhouse centres are equipped with purpose-made ateliers called the Sensory Oasis. These rooms are filled with special elements to encourage our infants to explore and ignite their curiosity in a safe, relaxing environment.
The Sensory Oasis is a dark room designed for infants that promotes relaxation and encourages development and stimulation. Being immersed with soothing sounds, captivating aromas and a variety of learning materials, our little ones will get to explore the environment using their five senses. This helps to uplift their sensory play experiences and discoveries while keeping their minds and emotions calm.
Find out more about our love of sensory play by booking a tour with us at your preferred centre today!
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