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Discovering the importance of sensory play within early years

From birth, children are designed to discover and explore the world through their senses. Therefore, encouraging sensory play in the most crucial stages of development is essential. Find out more about how sensory play can be used both throughout nursery and at home.

Sensory exploration is the natural way your child learns to discover, explore and learn. When children learn using their senses, this builds neural pathways in the brain and helps strengthen established pathways. Babies and toddlers learn how to respond to sensory information through exploring different textures, sounds, smells, tastes, sights and movement which helps to lay the foundation to more advanced knowledge as they grow, enabling children the ability to process increasingly complex tasks.

Sensory play supports the Prime areas of Learning and Development listed within the Early Years Foundation Stage. These are important areas of children’s development in their early years.

  • Communication and language: Sensory play supports children’s speech and language skills as they learn new words and phrases to describe what they are doing or playing with.
  • Physical development: As children play with the different objects and resources, they are manipulating them with their hands, picking them up, squeezing, pushing, pulling and throwing. This supports the development of their fine motor skills and hand and eye co-ordination.
  • Personal, social and emotional development: When children play together, they are encouraged to interact and work with others, sharing resources and taking turns. Older children also share ideas as they play collaboratively, and this encourages their creativity, imagination and problem-solving skills.

How Fennies incorporates sensory play

The extensive benefits to sensory based play are recognised by Nursery Managers across all eleven settings. Fennies’ unique pedagogical approaches build upon the objectives of the EYFS curriculum and our educators actively seek to implement learning opportunities through engaging sensory play. Our nurseries are equipped with various resources to enhance the children’s sensory development such as messy trays.

The project approach enables children to develop independence and knowledge through an area of existing interest. Recently the children in our Oxted nursery expressed an interest in the story ‘The Gingerbread Man.’ Staff members expanded this curiosity through various sensory activities such as creating gingerbread play dough, allowing children to explore the smell and texture, as well as exploring movement by reenacting the story.

Head of Education, Shanti Flynn explains more about the benefits of sensory play:

“Sensory play describes any activity which stimulate your senses. Sensory play allows children to explore and experiment with different materials through fun activities, which supports their learning and development. At Fennies, we provide a variety of age-appropriate sensory play activities in all our rooms which support the characteristics of effective learning of Playing and exploring, Active learning and Creating and thinking critically.”

Ideas to try at home

Exploring sensory play at home is beneficial not only for overall learning development but these activities have also been proven to calm an anxious or frustrated child. The best part is that these activities don’t have to be extravagant in order to be fun, we’ve put together our favorite ideas that can be recreated at home:

Sensory bags:

The great thing about sensory bags is that there is no right or wrong way to make them, just ensure the clear food bag is secure and add your filling of choice, our favorites include colorful paints, hair gel, oats and seeds. Watch your little one enjoy new textures, colours and movement.

Treasure baskets: 

Treasure baskets support young children’s development and curiosity through touch, taste, smell, sound and visual stimulation. Simply fill a basket with a selection of objects to inspire exploration through multi-sensory discoveries. The items can be tailored to a baby’s interests and age group. Children are often fascinated by the textures and feel of the different items. Exploring the items together can also develop communication and bonding opportunities. We recommend prioritizing natural materials such as wood and metal over plastic. Shanti explains, “at Fennies, we have moved away from plastic resources and toys. Have you ever noticed how all plastic feels and tastes the same?”

Ideas of items to add to a treasure basket:

  • Natural materials: Such as fir cones and pebbles
  • Wood: Such as wooden pegs and cosmetic brushes
  • Metal: such as spoons and whisks
  • Materials: such as leather and rubber
  • Paper and cardboard: such as toilet roll tubes and greaseproof paper
  • Smells: such as lavender bags and fruit

 

Sensory bottles: 
Similar to sensory bags, these bottles can be made from a variety of fillings you already have around the house. Sensory bottles are a great calming tool for anxiety or can be used as a hands-on exciting discovery toy. Our favorite ideas include beads, sand, water and glitter.

 

Messy trays:
Messy trays are a great way for children to explore multiple senses at the same time. Use different objects you can find at home to enhance your child’s play time. Our Kings Hall nursery recently mixed ice cubes with paints to explore temperature, texture, sound and colour. Shanti recommends considering all areas surrounding the senses and explains “people often concentrate on touch, sight and sound, but it is important to remember that taste and smell should also be included.”


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