Sensory Play is Important for Preschoolers and Toddlers

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 2:42 PM | Marina

A Child's 5 Senses Are Very Important to Growth and Development!

by E. Harmon

Preschoolers learn through their five senses. The senses of touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing are how young children explore the world around them. As parents and educators, it is our job to help them explore their senses by providing appropriate activities for sensory play and learning. To better understand the importance of the senses for young children, imagine you are about to take a drink of something you think is water. You lift up your glass and take a big swig. It turns out to be lemon-lime soda. You pull your face back quickly and possibly even gag a bit. Did the soda taste bad? Not at all. But, you were expecting water. Adults already have mental ideas of what things look, sound, feel, hear, and taste like. We already imagine what an item will taste like before we even have it in our mouths. When something challenges what we already know, it throws us for a loop. For toddlers and preschoolers, everything is new! They have not developed these mental pictures yet. That is why the world is so fascinating to them, and why we have an obligation to show them the world through their senses. Try these tips and ideas to get your toddler or preschool child to delve into our amazing world and to start using his senses to develop his own mental pictures.

The most commonly stimulated sense for young children is sight. From birth babies are given brightly colored and patterned playthings. Indeed, many children and adults learn best through their sight. The best way to stimulate the sense of sight is to allow your child to experience as many different sights as possible. Take your child to different places: the grocery store, a local park, the library, etc. Exposing your child to new and interesting experiences will keep her curiosity high. While you are exploring these places, talk to you child about what she is seeing. Explain what each item is to help develop the link between sight and sound. Visual art projects are also a great way to stimulate this sense. Age appropriate art materials of various colors provide a sensory smorgasbord for young kids.
Hearing is another commonly stimulated sense. Many toys for young children feature music and other various sounds. Music is extremely important for children. Many kids learn best when a concept is set to music. Music encourages motor skills development as children learn to keep a beat and to dance. When you are getting ready in the mornings, or preparing for bed at night, listen to a CD or sing some songs. Classic nursery rhymes are excellent, as are classical music CDs. Don't worry about what you sound like, your child won't care!

The sense of touch is probably only second to sight when it comes to common stimulation. The youngest of babies learn through the touch of their mother's skin. As children grow, different textures become highly interesting. Introduce babies and toddlers to various fabric textures. Use the side of a crayon to produce "rubbings" of items like coins, tree bark, or tombstones. Allow children to really explore their sense of touch through a sensory table. Items such as shaving cream, dry rice, sugar, dry beans, potato flakes, and countless other items, all provide inexpensive interesting textures for children to explore through their sense of touch.

The sense of taste is probably the most neglected of the senses when it comes to exploration. Once babies reach a certain age, they are encouraged to keep everything out of their mouths. Using mouths to explore, however, is quite natural. To stimulate the sense of taste, allow your toddler to try different textured (safe) foods. Let your toddler help you cook so that she is more likely to try new dishes. Make edible doughs to mold with and taste.

The sense of smell is often also neglected when it comes to sensory play. The sense of smell, however, is actually stronger than we realize. We link our smells to very sentimental items in our lives. To stimulate this sense, encourage your child to sniff the air and ask her to describe what he is smelling. Smell flowers, and foods, and other odors. Try putting some common smelling items into opaque containers, then allow your child to smell the items and guess what is inside. Children are often better than adults at this task!

Sensory play is essential to a preschool child's growth and development. It doesn't just happen on its own, however. We are responsible for opening up the world to our children through encouraging use of their five senses. Try these tricks to get started and really show your child the world!


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