Sensory play is one of the new “things” in toddler development. Engaging all of their senses is supposed to stimulate their little brains, making them learn easier later down the road and increasing their awareness of their worlds. Children with sensory issues are encouraged to play in this way in order to quiet their minds and stimulate them in a way that they can handle, so that they can deal with other situations that are more stimulating more easily. Children without them are encouraged to play this way anyway.
But does it really make a difference?
Research shows—and will continue to show—that different children learn in different ways. Some are enticed and excited by sensory play. Others find it boring. How they react will depend on the individual child—but what benefits does it have for your child (and you)?
Sensory materials are easy to put together.
With just basic craft supplies and other materials that you already have sitting around the house, you can easily put together sensory play materials that will entertain your kids for a little while. Bonus points if it’s something that can be pulled out and used on more than one occasion.
It keeps the kids entertained.
Anything that keeps the kids happily engaged and playing quietly, instead of getting into trouble or bickering, is well worth a little bit of effort—especially a sensory project that can be tossed together in a matter of minutes and cleaned up equally easily. Bonus points if it’s something that they can help put together or something that they can clean up themselves.
It gives the kids a brain break.
Big kids who have been sitting and staring at an assignment or a computer screen for too long become surly and hard to get along with—not to mention the internal frustration. If it’s a grey, dreary day outside, it might not be possible to get them outside and get them moving, but you can almost always pull out a fun sensory activity. Many times, the simple act of playing with something mindlessly for a little while can improve a child’s mood and ability to think.
Sensory materials are universal.
There are so many toys that are only useful for a very short span of time in your child’s overall development. Sensory materials, on the other hand, tend to last much longer: from toddler age all the way on up through middle and even high school, these are things that are fun to play with. If you have a number of children of different ages (especially with a huge gap), that’s definitely a relief!
It's something different.
These are materials that can be combined in many different ways at many different times. Getting your kids engaged in something different means that they can exercise some creative energy and enjoy something new—and it might just stave off another round of, “But Mom, I’m bored!”
It's an easy way to redirect overly energetic kids.
Because these materials tend to be mom-controlled, it isn't something that the kids are going to get into on their own--and so it's a quick and easy thing to reach for to redirect their energy and attention on a hard day.
Overall, whether they have long-term benefits or not, sensory materials are a valuable plaything to have around your home. They’re generally inexpensive, but have long-term benefits for play—what more can you ask for?