Written by Ines Lawlor
Every parent knows that ‘sensory stimulation’ is important for their child’s development – it’s written on every baby toy, book and even snack packet that parents buy! But what exactly does sensory-based play mean and why is it important to a child’s development?
Everything a child (or adult) experiences, we experience through our senses. Sensory information comes in from the senses and helps us make sense of the world around us. There are 7 senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell and movement and body awareness) which give us information about the world outside of our bodies. Each sense sends a constant steam of information to the brain which the brain processes in order to plan how to respond. So, in order to learn to coordinate our bodies efficiently, firstly we need to receive and process information from the senses accurately.
Therefore, in typically developing children, the more sensory stimulation that the senses receive the more ‘practice’ the brain gets at integrating this sensory information, so the better the ‘output’ (i.e. movement of the body) will be. Once the child has mastered processing sensation for normal movement of the body, it becomes automatic, so the brain is available for learning language and academic skills.
So how do children stimulate their senses so that they learn to integration the information… through play of course!
Think about a children’s playground. The equipment is designed for children to climb, hang upside down, swing, roll, spin, look through and feel. These playgrounds are designed to match children’s natural ways of playing. Young children don’t need to be taught to play on a playground, they have a natural instinct to move, feel, look, listen and even taste and smell everything they come in to contact with.
In typically developing children, encouraging and allowing children to explore their environment through natural play by touching, rolling, climbing and jumping should be enough to meet their sensory needs and promote healthy child development.
However, due to modern lifestyle trends which favour more sedentary indoor activities plus increasing health and safety concerns are leading to children moving less, consequently limiting their natural opportunities for sensory stimulation and increasing the number of children showing difficulties with sensory processing, motor coordination and attention.
I am delighted to be launching Sensory Shuffle – 50 illustrated playing cards with games designed to encourage sensory play in all children to enhance their development. Sensory Shuffle is especially useful for children who have difficulties processing sensation due to decreased opportunities for play, sensory loss, prolonged illness, or a diagnosis such as Autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
The sensory shuffle games are fun and easy to use indoors and outdoors and aim to encourage children to generate their own ideas for sensory play too!