This post was originally titled, “Summer Sensory Play,” as I started writing it back in mid-June. Well, here we are in August so I took the “Summer” part out, edited a few things, and wah-lah! :o) TIME FLIES!!!
As a parent, you probably have heard of sensory play, sensory exploration, or sensory processing. But, what does that mean and does it matter to your child? To answer the second part, YES! Sensory exploration is important for ALL children!
So, what is it? Sensory exploration is related to activities that stimulate your child's senses and it is absolutely crucial to brain development. Our senses go beyond the “five senses” and include two additional senses that are extremely vital to child development. They are proprioception and vestibular. These two inputs are incredibly, incredibly, incredibly important for our children as they are growing their tiny minds and bodies. I will get into these later…..
Everything we do is based on the sensory system, so providing opportunities for your child to build a strong sensory foundation is key in helping them reaching their full potential. Our sensory systems must work together to process inputs correctly in order to produce wanted outputs. Does that make sense? Probably not. This sensory piece can get deep. I’ll try to keep it simple. Here is an example: Three-year-old, Johnny, is sensitive to touch. He tends to tantrum when he feels certain textures, he hates wearing socks, he is a picky eater, and he can not tolerate being next to people on the bus. Mom hasn’t been able to bring him to the same art class that all her girlfriends bring their children because of unwanted textures or proximity to other children. As an infant, Johnny was not allowed to get messy and thus, he has developed a sensitivity to tactile input. He also didn’t leave the house much- you could say mom was a bit over-protective- and as a result Johnny is not comfortable in public places. In this case, Johnny’s sensitivity to touch (tactile input) is causing him to tantrum (unwanted output), therefore, Johnny is not able to access and learn from some age-appropriate activities.
Ok- here is what you need to know. Expose your kiddos to all kinds of different things that provide new and different inputs at an early age!!
Back to proprioception and vestibular. What are they and why are they so important?
Proprioception- this is input received by your muscles, ligaments and joints. Proprioception allows us to know where our body is in space. It helps us know how to automatically raise our hand in class, how to drive a car, or even how to play a board game. It is activated by activities that involve pushing, pulling, jumping, crashing, climbing. Proprioception is helpful when it comes to motor planning.
Vestibular- this input is received through your inner ear and helps your body interpret movement. It can be thought of as our system of balance and it is activated by motion or changes in head position. A “clumsy” child may have a difference in their Vestibular system, or an interruption in how the Vestibular system receives input (causing an unwanted output - clumsiness).
The proprioceptive system, vestibular system, and tactile systems are SO FREAKING IMPORTANT to development!! I’ll do another post that gets a bit more detailed about them, but in the meantime, here are some sensory activities you can easily do with your kiddo:
climb! ladders, on chairs, up hills, stairs
play with different textures! play-doh, sand, shaving cream, dirt, water beads
go on swings!
go down slides!
jumping off the couch or or bottom step
bounce on a yoga ball
gather leaves and rocks on a nature walk
crawl down the hall, under chairs, over a bed of pillows