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The importance of sensory play in children aged 3+

From birth, children continually explore and process every bit of new information, in order to make sense of the world around them.  We think nothing of surrounding a baby with an array of tactile materials and resources, to squish, press, rattle, and put in their mouths but – apart from being fun – sensory play is beneficial for children of all ages.

Child-height table with shelf for sensory play

I am 3 – how does sensory play support my development?

  1. I need to develop my brain

    Offering me things that have no predetermined outcome gives me the opportunity to try things in different ways, repeat them if I want, or change how I do it. Sensory play helps strengthen my brain development and improve my memory. It gives me the ability to complete more complex learning tasks. I am a creator and a problem solver too.

  2. I want to learn more words

    This sensory selection is great for enriching my language. I can talk about the new textures and shapes I am playing with; are they rough, rounded or smooth? Are they heavy or light?  I can decide whether I play with shapes, people, eggs or random stones, or maybe I can combine them all to create an exciting small world adventure. A playtable of the right size and height plus carefully selected resources encourage me to chat to my friends whilst I play. We don’t always agree, but even that makes us think about how we can use things differently and about ‘what we can do next’.

  3. I need to learn how to write

    I can stack, turn, place things in order, or print; these tactile resources and activities all help me to develop my hand and arm muscles, as well as my hand eye coordination, getting me ready to write. Some of my friends like writing more than I do and will write lists or stories linked to what they have done.

  4. I want to be independent

    I have the choice to work on my own or around the table with a group. Either way, experimenting with the different objects in different ways helps me develop problem solving and decision-making skills.

  5. I want to be sociable and make friends

    Sharing and taking turns is easier when there is such a wide range of items and I am not competing in a game. Sometimes I get stuck but watching and listening, and interacting with other children can still help me, and can make me think differently about things. Very often I learn to play in a different way by working with others.

  6. Sometimes I feel anxious

    Sensory resources can help calm me when I am feeling restless or anxious. I find the worry stones soothing.  The one that looks like a refresher sweet is my favourite calming stone.

  7. I love multi-sensory play

    I enjoy exploring different materials and textures so consider adding kinetic sand, instant snow, shredded paper, or bark to provide me with a rich sensory experience. I may even use sensory items in sand, water or the mud kitchen to extend my play discoveries.

Sensory Play is a fun, exciting and valuable way of engaging children in activities that will heighten their senses and enrich their learning. This open-ended learning, with no pre-determined outcomes, will intrigue, stimulate, and encourage children of all abilities to ‘just dive in’, experience and enjoy!


With thanks to Lalita at Nursery Solutions for writing this blog. Lalita is an independent experienced consultant who can help you to plan and design your nursery space to best support your objectives and children’s outcomes. Email lalita@nursery-solutions.co.uk

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