I figure most of you are already clued in to the benefits of sensory play which is why you are visiting our page, nonetheless, I think it is still important to spell out the various reasons why sensory play is important and beneficial, so that we may explore such activities with greater enthusiasm and possibly get new inspiration on how to spin the activities to enable different ways of learning. This is especially helpful when things start getting a bit too messy and you are tempted to pack it away right there and then!
So below are some of the key benefits from sensory play as I have gathered from various educational sites and blogs (links provided at the bottom) as well as based on my own personal experience and insights...
Sensory play helps children make sense of the world around them
Sensory play allows children lots of opportunities to examine various sensory materials in different ways, using not just their sense of touch, but also their sense of sight, smell, and sound. This exploration helps children discover new properties of the world around them, such as how certain materials hold their shape better than others, or the different sounds you make by letting materials fall on different containers, or the new colors you get when you mix two colors together, and simulataneously learn how to interact with and manipulate these new properties to arrive at their desired outcomes.
Sensory play develops fine motor skills
In the process of exploration, children will have lots of chances to develop their fine motor skills as they use their fingers or various tools to play with the sensory materials, including many fine motor motions that they will not typically have the chance to practise with regular toys and everyday activities. Some examples of fine motor movements associated with sensory play includes scooping and pouring of more fluid materials, pinching to pick up slippery items like water beads, kneading and rolling of moldable materials, lacing, spinning etc.
Sensory play sharpens problem solving skills
Sensory play inherently presents children with a set of problems to solve as they come into contact with materials that are new to them and have properties that they are still unfamiliar with. As they try to pour materials into a bottle with a small opening or make a sand sculpture hold its shape, their brains are working hard to make sense of the problem and come up with a solution. Also, there are many ways to introduce simple problems for children to solve and improve their math and logic skills, such as counting, comparing sizes or sorting materials by colors or shapes.
Sensory play allows room for lots of creativity
Being very open-ended in nature, sensory play allows children to express themselves in creative ways. There is lots of room for pretend play with the different sensory materials as children find natural comparisons with objects around them such as serving up a bowl of 'soup' with rainbow rice, scooping 'ice cream' with play dough, or letting animals swim through the water beads 'ocean'. With moldable materials such as play dough or sand, the possibilities for creative expression are endless.
Sensory play can help develop language skills
As children experience new textures and sensations, they will build up new ways of describing the world around them and develop a more vivid understanding of many descriptors that would otherwise be meaningless to them. For example, words such as 'slimy' or 'slippery' would likely make a lot more sense to them after they've had a chance to experience playing with such materials first hand.
Steinberg, Danielle. "Developing and Cultivating Skills Through Sensory Play". PBS. http://www.pbs.org/parents/child-development/sensory-play/developing-and-cultivating-skills-through-sensory-play/
Morin, Amanda. "Why Sensory Play is Important". About.com. http://kidsactivities.about.com/od/CreativePlay/a/SensoryPlay.htm
Twodaloo.com. "Sensory Play: Is This Really Necessary?" http://www.two-daloo.com/sensory-play-is-this-really-necessary/
Homeschoolinmama.com. "5 Benefits to Sensory Play". http://homeschoolinmama.com/5-benefits-to-sensory-play/