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Sensory Play for Brain Development

Does your baby seem to want to lick every single thing? Or maybe you have a toddler that just can’t help but see what that button does when they push it?

These are signs that your child is trying to learn more about their world. Children have the same senses that we do: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and proprioception (an internal sense of their body’s movements, positioning and more). But children tune into and use theirs a whole lot more than us because they don’t have the prior knowledge that we do about objects.

For example, I wouldn’t taste a door handle because I know its not going to taste very nice. This is a prediction I’m making because I know that non-food objects don’t taste nice. Children don’t have these powers of prediction yet. They are in a state of finding out as much as they can about their world and they use all of their senses to do this.

This is why sensory play is so important for a child’s brain development. I know what you’re all thinking, “Its going to be too messy!” But sensory play doesn’t have to be messy all the time, and I’ll share a few great ideas with you.

Building on what I said before about our powers of prediction, sensory play can involve children exploring objects with their hands that have a ‘cause and effect’ type reaction, e.g. flicking a switch and a light turns on, or turning the key and the lock opens.

Sensory play can also involve exploring different sensations, e.g. the coldness of metal objects, the smooth feel of a glossy painted bead, the softness of materials. This knowledge of sensations can eventually result in your child predicting what something is made of. It is also a component of the skill involved in finding our keys when we’re rummaging around in the bottom of our bag – knowing the shape, jingling sound and cold metal feel of the keys is critical.

Finally, one of the really obvious benefits of sensory play, is that it often requires kids to use their fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are the opposite of gross motor skills like jumping, running, sitting. They instead involve more intricate fine movements, often involving the fingers. Moving small beads along an abacus, placing an object into a small hole or attempting a small buckle or lock are examples of how children can develop their fine motor skills through sensory play. 

Sensory play is all around us, it’s a matter of allowing our children to explore their environment, lick trees, smell herbs and start their journey towards effective prediction of how the world works.


Alex Trichilo

Speech Pathologist and Mum of three Instagram: Facebook: