Playing in different ways and situations is vital to early childhood development. It’s good for their physicality, their mentality, and their senses too. This guide will explore the four different kinds of sensory play every child should experience for child development, including:
- Functional and observational play
- Exploratory and sensory play activities
- Goal-orientated play
- Imaginative and inclusive play
The Importance of Sensory Play for Child Development
Let’s give your kids a boost and help them have a good time while they learn some essential life lessons.
“Children who play more are more self-regulated, cooperative, considerate, friendly, and socially competent. They display more appropriate social behaviors, coping skills, and experience greater peer acceptance.”Child-encyclopedia.com
Famous Child psychologist, Jean Piaget, theorized that play helps children develop their cognition and understanding of the world. He suggested that specific kinds of play were necessary at different age levels. Similarly, teachers and parents use these stages as a guide even today.
However, every child is independent, and ultimately, they control their cognitive development. So, as a guide, here are the four kinds of play we think are most beneficial. Plus, there are some examples of activities you can introduce to aid their early childhood development.
Functional and observational play
The first, most basic play, is based around observation, function, and repetition. Repetitive play, such as banging blocks, is fun for babies and entertains them. Moreover, it helps them develop their initial cognitive functions, which are the foundation for later play and learning.
In addition to this, babies spend a lot of time just looking and listening to the world around them. They develop spatial awareness this way and begin sensory exploration through music, crawling, and trying new toys.
Here are a few functional and observational play activities
- Throwing or stacking blocks
- Pushing toys
- Banging things together
- Swinging on the swings
Exploratory and Sensory Play for Child Development
As babies grow older, begin to move around more and experience new things, their exploratory nature will kick in, and they’ll begin to look at sensory play ideas.
What is sensory play?
We’ve all heard how babies will grab everything and put anything in their mouths from sand, to paint and toys. These sensory, messy activities help them learn and understand the world better. And that’s what sensory play and this particular stage of exploration are about: the experience. It’s about feeling, squeezing, making noise, and activating the senses.
Why is sensory play important?
For babies, this kind of play is hugely beneficial and incredibly natural for them. It aids in the development of senses and essential motor functions. And it teaches them simple life skills, like what not to eat or touch.
However, without sensory play and exploratory activities, we’d be wary of all new things and scared of new noises, smells, and textures. The real world we live in wouldn’t make sense to us.
Benefits of sensory play
This kind of play is enjoyable for children no matter their age. This is because most everyone likes getting messy and trying new things. It’s a way to encourage investigation and experimentation in everyday life. But sensory play also has more functional benefits:
- Helps develop essential and healthy sensory brain functions
- HIt helps children learn to focus
- Aids in the growth of nerve connections and improves motor skills
However, the most important benefit is that it can help parents and carers uncover any sensory processing disorders in children. We can watch and look out for a child in sensory overload and act quickly to help them cope.
Sensory activities for babies
- Playing with soap bubbles
- Ripping paper
- Playing with different textures
Sensory activities for children
- Playing with torches and shadows
- Finger painting to see color changes and feel new textures
- Playing in the sand or on a dedicated sensory playground
- Making music and noise
Research shows that children begin to take part in goal-orientated play between ages two and three. It usually marks the transition from stimulated and sensory play into more creative play and accomplishments.
The main benefits of this kind of sensory play for child development come in the problem-solving aspect of it. Goal-orientated play is the first real chance children have to work towards something and find solutions. This is even if they’re only trying to get all the blocks into the right shaped holes.
They have to plan and test and try things out again and again. This is great for children on the autism spectrum. Most importantly, this is because they prefer rules, routines, and repetition to function correctly.
Goal-orientated play activities
- Board games and puzzles
- Building blocks
- Swimming (learn more about swimming and autism)
- Ball games
- Hide and seek
Imaginative and inclusive play
We all played pretend we were younger, as doctors, witches, cowboys, and aliens. However, while we were having fun, we were honing and developing our imaginations and creative skills.
This massive cognitive shift comes on the back of exploratory and sensory play, which facilitates creativity and imagination. Moreover, it kickstarts a child’s ability to be cooperative with friends and family. It also further expands their social skills, their ability to solve problems, and to be fair and just.
Sometimes, this is called free play due to the unrestricted and improvised nature of it. But it’s also the most active and therefore, the most dangerous kind of play. Children running and playing can fall, go somewhere they’re not supposed to, or play with things that they shouldn’t because they imagine it’s something else. You need to watch children doing this kind of play to keep them safe and teach them to understand boundaries.
Imaginative and inclusive play activities
- Pretend play
- Building block sets
- Dress up
The Importance of Sensory Play for Child Development
Finally, any play will prove beneficial for your child’s development. Just try to vary it to include goal-orientated, imaginative, and sensory play activities. And give them as much opportunity as you can for a rounded start to their early childhood development and education.
Understanding the importance of sensory play for child development will help raise children who learn through play. For more great articles, check out our special needs parenting section.