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The Importance of Sensory Learning

We know it's really important to provide opportunities for children to actively use their senses to explore the world around them. Both children (and adults) learn best and retain the most information when they engage their senses. If you think about it, most of our favourite memories are associated with one of our senses (the smell of a particular perfume or hearing an old song). From their first day on the planet children have taught themselves about the world by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing and hearing. We tend to organise lots of sensory activities for babies and toddlers, but older children can really benefit from these too.

Sensory play is crucial for brain development. For example, as children explore sensory materials and develop their sense of touch, they lay the foundations for learning other skills like identifying objects and using their fine-motor muscles. Materials at the sand and water area have lots of different sensory attributes (warm or cool? Wet or dry? Rough or smooth? Hard or soft? Textured or slimy?), and discovering these different characteristics is the first steps in classification or sorting. Research shows that sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, which lead to the child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks.

Sensory play is also great for developing language skills. It's obviously pretty difficult for children to get to grips with words like 'melting' or 'sinking' until they've experienced it in real life. Some experts have also argued that sensory play also enables children to develop their pre-writing skills; pouring and stirring will all help to improve their hand-eye coordination.

Most sensory activities allow children to be in complete control of their actions, which boosts their confidence in decision making and can inspire further learning and experimenting. Children also learn about cooperation and collaboration, as they work alongside their peers and have to respect each other. They also get the opportunity to express themselves and become confident sharing their ideas.

Are you struggling to incorporate sensory learning in your nursery or at home? Lack of space might be the reason. Ideally paint, water or sand areas would be placed on tiled floors or outside but if you're struggling for room plastic mats will work to protect carpets. Too messy? That's your problem, not the child's! Weigh up your tolerance for messiness against the learning outcomes for the child, but remember that helping to clear up helps develop problem-solving skills.

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