In my many encounters with messy play and the research and talks I do, I've found that there are three keys to sensory play that every parent, teacher or caregiver should be aware of.
So, what are the three keys to unlock the benefits of sensory play?
1) Activate at least two sensory systems at once. This fires up at least two areas of the brain, and builds connections between them. We all know about the five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell – but there are three other senses we also can activate through sensory play: proprioception, interoception and vestibular. Proprioception is knowing where your body is in space. A great way to stimulate this sense is through ‘search-and-find’ games like if you hide a penguin in a bin full of water beads and they have to feel around to try to find it. Interoception is knowing what is happening in your own body, for instance feeling hungry or the need to go to the bathroom. I find that by activating other sensory systems, interoception also activates. For instance, kids that are having a tantrum often calm down and say they need to go to the bathroom as soon as they hear some pleasant music and have a visual and tactile element at a sensory table. And finally, the vestibular sense is your body’s sense of balance and is best triggered by gross-motor play like swinging at the playground, running and jumping.
2) Novelty. Kids need the NEW. Their brains actually seek this out to help them learn and develop well, so this is why your child might get excited about a new toy and then a week later not want to play with it anymore. But with sensory play, novelty is easier than you’d think. Read this blog post for 5 free ideas you can try out today. Novelty can be introduced in the same sensory bin simply by changing the type of tools that are provided (a spoon versus a whisk) or by adding scents, colours or new search-and-find critters.
3) Make it easier on yourself. If parents don’t encourage messy play because it causes too much inconvenience, kids won’t get this awesomely beneficial tool at their disposal each day. So, it’s important to find ways to make it sane and easy on yourself. This is why I invented the SensaTable. The bins come out so you can easily switch up materials and wash up the bins. Some people just store a few simple activities in bins in a cupboard and swap them into the table. And for the mess, the SensaTable gives self-guided messy play a ‘frame’ which you can train your child around. Things stay in the bins or playtime is over. And it’s more comfortable for them since the table is at their height. Throw an old blanket under there with a slip-mat under it and you’re set for some simple, easy sensory play!
With these three keys, you can turn any spare moment and any loose parts to an invitation to play, and unlock the many awesome benefits of sensory play!