Why sensory play is important for development? The benefits of sensory trays
During your time as a parent, no doubt you have heard the term “Sensory Play” used on many occasions, but may have wondered what is it all about and what is so special about a tray of rice that is guaranteed to be spread all over the house!
I’m going to share with you 6 major benefits your child is experiencing and learning during the time they are happily scooping, pouring and scrunching that rice up. Trust me after reading this you’ll happily leave that sensory tray out and pat yourself on the back that something so simple and easy can be so valuable for your child. Winning!
What is a sensory tray?
Firstly let’s talk about what a sensory tray is… to keep it simple, it can be any tub or tray filled with some oats and baking utensils or rice with scoops and bowls or a small world with your child’s favourite figurines or vehicles. It doesn’t stop there though, the possibilities really are endless and there are so many different things you can use in a tray.
What is so important about a sensory tray?
The learning and developmental benefits really are second to none, so let’s not beat around the bush and get started…
1. Fine Motor Skill Development
A child’s hands get a real work out whilst using a sensory tray. Think of how busy those hands are moving, scrunching and pinching. They use their whole hands and the coordination of their eyes to make it all happen.
Add some small fine motor tools and their hands are getting an even harder work out. Building hand strength fosters cutting skills and hand writing skills for when they start school.
Now if you compare that to a child using a gaming device, the hands are simply not used in the same way. Sensory trays build fine motor skills in way that technology cannot.
2. Life Skills
Sensory trays are a great way for children to learn life skills. How you ask? When a child uses a sensory tray they are learning things like scooping, pouring, dumping and transferring. These skills extend into every day life of how to use various types of scoops and how to fill different containers.
As adults we know that using a wide brimmed scoop to fill a small egg cup is not going to turn out well… children learn trial and error whilst playing with a sensory tray. Who knew a simple tray of rice could teach so much!
3. Mathematical Skills
Speaking of children scooping and pouring rice into containers, this activity is also building mathematical skills. They are learning about measurement, estimating and spatial awareness. Think about their minds ticking over learning how many scoops of rice fill a certain container, understanding that a smaller container requires less to be full and a certain container is bigger than another.
Sensory trays provide serious learning. It may look like a mess waiting to happen but instead it’s learning waiting to happen.
4. Tactile Play
When our senses are engaged (sight, smell, touch, sound and taste) this is known as tactile play.
This is exactly what sensory play is all about. When a child, or adult for that matter, engages more than one sense they learn and remember information so much better. Sensory trays allow for multiple senses to be used at one time and this is how children learn about the world around them.
By playing with a sensory tray they are seeing how the rice moves, hearing the sound it makes when it pours, touching all parts of the rice and sensory tray contents and if there’s a scent they are learning through smell. Go even further, if the contents are taste safe then they are learning through taste also.
“The senses, being explorers of the world, open the way to knowledge” – Maria Montessori
5. Independent Play & Pretend Play
Sensory trays are my favourite thing for fostering independent play and pretend play. You will notice children concentrate and focus in a much different way when they are playing with a sensory tray rather than when they are using toys that tell them what to do or how to do it.
Sensory trays are completely child-led. The child directs the play, imagines the situations, and determines the tasks. Sensory trays provide the most amazing opportunity for truly independent, uninterrupted play. Their imaginations can run wild and the stories created are truly the best thing ever. I like to step back when my son is playing, but I do love to observe and listen to all the stories.
6. Learning Boundaries & Developing Self-Control
To ensure sensory tray play is safe and “sort of” mess free, it’s important to set some boundaries. For example, nothing goes in the mouth and everything stays in the tray. Therefore, sensory trays teach children to learn about responsibility.
At some stage most kids feel the impulse to throw the rice or put something in their mouths (it’s only natural – it’s part of learning too right?!), but if they know the boundaries and stop themselves are they learning the art of self-control. Being able to be play with something so exciting, but to remain in control of their urges and body, is truly remarkable.
Sensory trays provide the perfect opportunity to practice self-control and following boundaries.
There are so many more benefits to sensory trays than the above 6 points I have mentioned, however, if I was to list them all this blog would turn into a novel!
Sensory trays can be for all ages, my son started at 6 months and still plays today at 8 years.
If you’re feeling inspired to try a sensory tray in your home but don’t know where to start, head over to my website at www.happimess.com.au for ideas, ready made sensory kits and resources to get you started.
It truly warms my heart seeing your children play with the resources I create so if you do give any of them a try, please feel free to tag me on Instagram @happimess_aus so I can see.