If you’re anything like me, the following scenario might sound familiar. You walk into a crowded grocery store with bright lights and enticing rows of food. You start to feel overstimulated as you dodge the oncoming carts, and before you know it, you’ve forgotten the reason you were there in the first place. You soldier on, forgetting most of the items that were on the list that you left at home. You end up spending way too much time and money on random items you don’t really need. By the time you get home, you are totally depleted.
Distractions bombard us every day. With product overload at grocery stores, televisions at restaurants, electronic billboards, and text messages and other phone alerts vying for our attention, we are constantly challenged to filter stimuli to stay in the present moment. Our senses, which enable us to modulate sensory input, play a major role in the way we react to the world.
According to Barbara Sher, expert occupational therapist and author of Everyday Games for Sensory Processing Disorder, “There is a great advantage in helping children become more aware of sensory information. Homing in on one sense can be an exquisite experience for everyone involved.” Because young children learn through using multiple senses simultaneously, sensory play is a proven way to build cognitive skills. Sensory play supports brain, motor skill, and language development, and encourages scientific thinking and problem solving.
Capitalize on the benefits of sensory play by trying out these activities with your child:
Activities for Touch
- Create Your Own Slime: This gooey, squishy recipe will introduce your child to the world of measurements in a playful way while supporting sensory integration.
- Ice Cube Necklace: With this activity, your child can watch liquid water turn to solid ice and back into water. Your child will work on following verbal instructions and using small muscle control for beading as well as experience what it feels like to hold and play with ice.
- Scented Play Dough: Your child will be fascinated by their new fragrant play dough, but they will also be giving the muscles in their hands the workout they need to get ready for all the writing, drawing, and cutting to come.
Activities for Taste
- Blow Painting: Increase your child’s ability to blow by showing them how to create a beautiful art piece you can display after.
- Create a Santa Face with Fruit: This activity will expose your child to new types of food and stimulate their taste buds. It can be modified to create any type of face your child wants.
Activities for Smell
- Your Nose Knows: With this experiment, your child will give their nose a workout by examining objects to find the matching scents.
- Play the Senses Guessing Game: In this fun guessing game, your child uses their sense of smell and taste to figure out what is in the containers.
Activities for Sight
- The Magic Magnifying Glass: This hands-on activity has kids using magnifying glasses to engage with the world around them and look closely at what they find.
- Color Spy and Make Your Own I Spy Game: These fun games support your child’s visual development.
Activities for Sound
- Play Musical Statues: This simple activity helps improve listening skills as your child will be required to discriminate between sound and silence. It also offers a great opportunity for self-expression and to practice self-regulation.
- Make a Story in a Bag: Help your child practice listening skills by making puppets and telling your favorite stories. The purpose is for your child to tell the story back to you in their own words.
Please remember to consult an occupational therapy professional if you have concerns about your child’s sensory needs. The benefits of sensory play are proven and provide meaningful learning experiences for kids of all ages.
More About Sensory Play and Sensory Processing Disorder
- “Occupational Therapists, What Do They Do?” Child Mind Institute
- : “Sensory Processing Disorder in Children” ADDitude
- “‘Sensory Diet’ Treatment: What You Need to Know” Understood.org
- “Webinar: Sensory Diets 101” Understood.org
- The Games Lady
- “Sensory Experiences Can be Messy Fun” Earlychildhood NEWS
By April Brown (M.Ed), writer and education consultant based in Austin, TX.