Research Continues to Explore Benefits of Sensory Play

Research shows that sensory play is important for brain development. Learn why children with disabilities may be sensory deprived and three ways to include more sensory play for special needs children.
By: Macy Kaiser
Feb. 9, 2012 - PRLog -- “Recent child development research suggests sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain's pathways, which helps the brain develop. These experiences are basically food for the brain. They lead to more complex learning tasks, so that children are able to do more complex learning,” according to EduGuide, a nonprofit whose mission is to boost student achievement.  

One could think of sensory stimulation as a pathway to learning for children.  This pathway is unique in many ways because when you add sensory stimulation to an experience, it’s like paving the road to learning and making it a superhighway.

A child’s senses allow him to see, feel, hear, smell and taste things to understand them and incorporate them into his life.  Witness a small baby’s obsession with mouthing.  The tactile stimulation created by sucking on and investigating an object or even a body part with his mouth is one of the first examples of sensory learning.  

What’s more, a child’s senses need to be used in order to fully develop.   Those brain pathways referred to in the research mentioned above get reinforced when that sensory stimulation is repeated creating neural pathways.  Our brains then organize these pathways and use them when classifying things.

Again according to EduGuide, “But most important, studies show that children who don't have enough sensory play experiences may suffer learning problems.”  In fact, some researchers believe that children’s access to sensory experiences is declining.  This may be due in part to the infiltration of technology into children’s lifestyles. Many children are spending more time relating to a two-dimensional screen than they are partaking in play experiences like being outdoors—a treasure chest of sensory stimulation including smells along with visual, audio, kinesthetic and tactile experiences.

Children with a disability, and those with multiple disabilities, are perhaps even more at risk of living a sensory-deprived  life.  What are some reasons children with special needs might not be given a diet rich in sensory play experiences?  According to Ellen Metrick, Chief Toy

Evaluator at AblePlay, a website that researches, rates and reviews toys and play products for children with disabilities, some reasons might be:
•   Lack of mobility
•   Lack of muscle coordination
•   Over sensitivity to some sensory stimulation
•   Other health concerns
•   Tendency to over-protect and minimize risk by parents

What can be done to enliven children with disabilities sensory play opportunities?  Here are three steps Metrick often suggests to parents.

1.   Figure out your child’s sensory preferences.  Do they like visual, audio, kinesthetic, or tactile input best?
2.   Look for creative ways to provide a healthy diet of preferences.  
3.   Layer in other sensory experiences triggering the child’s other senses
4.   Turn to nature for help by getting your child outdoors where sensory play thrives

Educator, advocate and mom, Amanda Morgan asserts in her blog, “Because data collection is often done by using the senses, sensory development through sensory play  is imperative in honing the child’s number one scientific tool: the five senses.  

This can be done through a variety of activities as we encourage the children to use, attend to, and discuss the five senses.”

It appears that the science, the research and the advocates all agree, sensory play is an important part of giving your children everything they need to grow, learn, develop and explore the amazing world around them.
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