Today we have a guest post from the Rebecca at Rebecca Michi – Parenting Consultant, with a post on the benefits of sensory play and how to get started.  Rebecca can be found on Facebook and Twitter (@RebeccaMichi) and you can read her blog here.

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Babies start to use their senses before they are even born, as they listen to the sounds of the outside world around them. Studies have shown that unborn babies are able to respond to familiar voices, and this is often why a parent’s voice can soothe and calm newborns. During the early days, babies rely heavily on their senses as they try to understand their new surroundings- lights, sounds, smells and textures are all so new and worth exploring! You will no doubt have read lots about what your baby can see and hear during their first few weeks of life, and you will probably have your own ideas on how to stimulate those senses too. As babies grow older, their needs begin to change, but their reliance on their senses does not disappear. This is why sensory play is so beneficial- it’s a fun way for your and your baby to bond, and a fantastic way for little ones to explore the world using their senses!

What is sensory play?

Sensory play is basically any kind of play that allows babies to explore different materials using their senses. So it is play that they can get stuck into, that stimulates all of the senses. This may involve things to look at, things to touch, things to taste, things to smell and things to listen to. Sensory play can be adapted according to age, and there really is no upper limit for this because play is important no matter how old you are!

Tips for getting started

When your baby is very young, you need to keep play sessions short and sweet. This is partly due to concentration spans being very short, but also due to the fact that over stimulation can lead to disruptions in routine. With this in mind, don’t plan overly elaborate sensory play sessions because you will only be disappointed if your little one is not as keen as you are! Good materials to bring out are:

  • soft brightly coloured scarves
  • brightly coloured fairy lights (make sure they do not heat up)
  • musical instruments- or pots and pans for bashing
  • different types of fabrics

Show your baby how to explore the materials, making sure that you supervise at all times. You will notice that most things go straight into the mouth at some point, which leads us to our next tip for older babies…

Explore with edible sensory materials

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Older babies that are able to sit up and who are eating some solid foods are bound to have a lot of fun with sensory play. You can tailor play sessions towards more of the senses as they can start to develop their sense of taste and smell. Lots of food stuff can be used for sensory play, and some ideas include:

  • cooked pasta, lentils and fruit- let your baby explore these materials with their hands, their mouths and their nostrils. Talk to them about how they feel, what they taste like and the aromas they have. In doing so, you are building their vocabulary and allowing them freedom to explore, thus giving them confidence and independence in their play
  • edible finger paints- these can be made with cornfour and water with a little food colouring added and are great fun! Let your little one make edible art that is safe to taste!
  • custard, soft fruits and jello- these are also great materials to explore and provide wonderful sensory experiences

Tips for controlling mess!

Inevitably, if you let your baby explore sensory materials in this way, they are going to get messy. Not all sensory play is messy business, but it does make sense to reserve an area in your home for this kind of play. Invest in some good quality play aprons and cover the floor- perhaps with a play mat that can be easily wiped, or with a cheap shower curtain that can be rinsed. Some activities can be done outside- water play, for example- or even in the bath tub. Try not to let the ‘messy’ element of sensory play spoil it for you. Your baby is exploring the world around them and you are doing them a great service by allowing this!

Benefits of sensory play

  • When a baby is allowed to explore materials with freedom, they are given permission to extend their little world a little more. They use their senses to interpret new sounds, sights, tastes, smells and textures, and therefore they are processing new information all the time. New words, new sensations, new emotions.
  • Studies have shown that sensory play helps to build nerve connections in the brain’s pathways and helps children to learn the skills needed for more complex learning.
  • Sensory play can calm and soothe children who are feeling angry, frustrated or confused.
  • When you engage with your little one during sensory play, you are divulging new words and aiding communication.

Alongside these obvious benefits, sensory play is also a wonderful way to bond with your child and to spend quality time together. So what are you waiting for?

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