What exactly is ‘sensory play’ you may ask? Though it might sound odd to you, sensory play is, simply put, a hands-on activity that encourages children to use their senses. How can playing with a bunch of stuff in some bin actually help our kids develop? Well, sensory bin play time stimulates a child’s senses: touch, sight, smell, sound, and taste, as well as encourages physical movement and balance, all through the exploration of a chosen learning media.
Ummm…OK…So, What IS a Sensory Bin?
In order to understand if sensory bin play will be useful for your children and classrooms, you obviously need to know what a sensory bin is! Basically, sensory bins are tactile experience (mini)environments. For example, a sensory bin can be something as simple as a storage container filled with an interesting medium, such as beans, sand, pasta, rice, or even water. This container turned ‘mini learning environment‘ should ideally be large enough to allow children to experience and explore its contents without the worry of those contents overflowing. Honestly, the learning possibilities with these bins are truly limitless!
Sounds Like Fun…But, Let’s Talk About Research, Shall We?
Research on the benefits of children’s sensory bin play experience tells us lots of great things we, parents and teachers, all LOVE to hear, like:
1) Physical skill development:
Through bin activities, children develop and strengthen new motor skills through the sifting, shaping, scooping, molding, dumping, splashing, and whatever else they can think of doing with the sensory medium. All these actions support the development of their muscles and fine/gross motor skills.
2) Cognitive skill development:
Children develop an understanding of their environment, even before they can speak, by actively exploring their surroundings via their senses. As they grow and become more verbal, they can then describe the similarities and differences in what they touch, taste, see, hear, and smell. Sensory play is excellent for such growth.
3) Social and communication skills development:
Working closely together with your classmates at the sand and water bin/table provides kids with wonderful opportunities to observe their fellow peers handle sensory materials, which in turn gives them the idea to try out what their friends just did, which in turn leads them to share their own unique ideas and discoveries, thus, building relationships. Additionally, their actions during sensory play give children the opportunity to communicate both verbally and non-verbally. A young preschooler may display a look of surprise as their hand makes contact with the table sand. Another may happily giggle when they cause water to splash repeatedly.
4) Developing a ‘sense of self’:
As children directly play and explore with/in a sensory experience environment, they learn to communicate their preferences, essentially making sense of the environment (and world) around them.
5) Emotional development:
As you can imagine, sensory play can be a calming experience for children. For many, it helps them work through any anxiety, frustrations, or troubling emotions. As well, sensory play grants children a place to express their positive feelings, such as happiness, excitement, and curiosity.
Why is Sensory Play Specifically Important for Preschoolers?
As children interact with their environment, and each other, they develop an ‘internal dialogue,’ leading them to question their surroundings and investigate their world. How? They do so by smelling, listening, grasping, rubbing, shaking, tasting… anything and everything! THIS is the amazing part, where they are using their senses to collect precious data about the world they live in. And, from this such data, they will then attempt to answer their own questions and quench their precious curiosity.