Sensory development is the gradual process by which an infant learns and becomes aware of their senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, vestibular (body movement), and proprioception (body position).
Stages of sensory development differ for each child. However, each sensory milestone falls around the same approximate timeframes:
- 0-6 months: Babies are alert and respond to sounds and voices. They also begin looking at their own hands.
- 6-12 months: Babies can move their tongues around food particles and distinguish different textured foods.
- 1-2 years: Babies enjoy messy play! They also react to extreme temperatures and can solve problems using trial and error.
- 2-3 years: Toddlers begin to explore their surroundings. They can also identify basic shapes.
- 3-4 years: Children can count from 1 to 5 and identify most colors. They also develop social skills through activities and simulated play.
Children acquire sensory skills in a progressive manner. These skills play an important role in their overall development. You can initiate sensory play by providing a safe and encouraging environment for discovery.
What is Sensory Play?
Sensory play is any activity that stimulates a child’s senses. These activities facilitate exploration and encourage children to discover and refine different thresholds of sensory information.
Sensory play helps refine other skills such as language development and motor skills. Some forms of sensory play also have calming effects, which can assist in regulating a child’s boredom, restlessness, or agitation.
How Can I Induce Sensory Play?
There are several ways of introducing sensory play to your child. You can utilize everyday items in your household to create an exciting experience. Below are some fun ideas to try!
1) Sensory Board
A sensory board is suitable for babies around 4-6 months and can also be used with toddlers until the age of 2. For this engaging activity, you will need a wooden board, glue, and an assortment of household items. Affix the items to the board with the glue. Choose similar items with varying textures, shapes, and sizes. For example, attach different types of fabric. As your child feels each piece, describe its texture using words like “rough,” “sparkly,” “soft,” etc. You can even attach a jingling key ring to engage your child’s sense of hearing.
2) Play Dough
Play dough is one of the most stimulating toys for children under 2. Your child will develop an understanding of how to grasp objects and mold different shapes. Most play dough available in stores contains chemicals that could be harmful to your child. Instead, you can whip up a quick batch of safe and edible play dough! To get you started, here’s a great recipe that is delicious and easy to make!
3) Food Art and Play
Feeding a baby or toddler often can be a messy task. However, it’s also an ideal time to have a fun learning experience! Cut up different types of fruit such as apples, oranges, and bananas. This will help your child in understanding different colors, shapes, and textures. Moreover, it will stimulate their taste buds and nasal rectors and expand their palate. Bonus point? Let them squish the fruits to their heart’s content and build their hand muscles. Encouraging your child to play with their food may also make them more receptive to try new foods.
4) Rice Bottles
Rice bottles are perfect for toddlers between the ages of 2 and 4. Fill an empty bottle with grains such as rice, wheat, or barley to make a shaker for your child. Shake the bottle to help build motor skills; the sound of the moving grains will also stimulate hearing. Be sure to seal the bottle tightly so as to prevent any grains from accidentally entering your child’s mouth.
5) Interactive Books
Interactive books for babies and toddlers have plenty of developmental benefits. Interactive book elements such as lift-the-flap, die-cut holes, and touch-and-feel provide a range of sensory experiences. For example, books that emit sounds and light may improve sight and hearing. The die-cut or lift-the-flap features will foster your child’s curiosity and touch as they trace shapes or play with the flaps. In addition, reading aloud to your child will enhance their language acquisition skills.
By introducing these forms of sensory play, you help children remain cognitively stimulated and aid in their overall development. These are just some of the ways you can engage in sensory play. Visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children website for more suggestions and information.