Last Updated on February 4, 2022 by Editorial Team
A sensory skill is an activity that helps a growing brain organize sensations. To move and learn and behave, a child’s brain needs to organize the information it receives from its primary senses (taste, sight, touch, smell, hearing, movement, gravity, and position). This organization of sensations is called sensory integration. (Ayres & Robbins, 2005)
Sensory integration allows a healthy child to act and purposefully respond to its physical world. This also forms an underlying foundation for a child’s social behavior and academic learning. For example, think of a child squishing his fingers through beach sand, or playing catch with a clay ball or trying to eat a chalk piece, or putting objects into his mouth. All these activities involve sensory experiences. It is what gives children a greater understanding of how things work.
When it comes to sensory activities there are many fun and easy options that can encourage children to develop early sensory skills. In this article, we will explore efficient sensory activities and games that can assist parents to stimulate their children’s senses. You must be doing some of them already.
The activities in the article are suitable for young children and children with learning disorders.
Sensory activities and daily life
How do sensory activities look in daily life? Let’s take playing in a bathtub as an example. Within this activity, a child’s sense may get stimulated in multiple ways.
- The water in the tub could engage their touch.
- As they splash the water, it could engage their sense of hearing.
- The moving water could help them track and follow the movements. It may also engage their sight and their sense of gravity.
These sensory experiences may seem irrelevant to most of us, but a trained set of eyes could recognize their importance in early childhood. Being aware that the brain is the director of all activity could make parents more sensitive to the sensory functions in their child and may help them notice a problem early on if it occurs. Aware parents may help their struggling child live a happier life.
A child may recall the steps involved in an activity if it had their multiple senses involved. In this way, sensory experiences enrich day-to-day activities and make them more meaningful. Gradually the experiences become learning tools for growing children.
How do introduce sensory skills in the early stages of learning?
Despite knowing the importance of sensory activities in early developmental stages, parents often do not know how to go about it. Reading a child asleep story is a good example of a sensory activity that could involve multiple senses at a time. Or letting them sort their toys by size and color. The best part of sensory activities is that it’s fun and free. That doesn’t mean we bombard our children with sensory experiences.
Research is clear that too much sensory stimulation is counterproductive and could lead to cognitive malfunctions. It’s no secret that learning disorders like ADHD are among the most common problems in children. And one of the leading triggers could be the increase in our screen time. The internet and the increase in bandwidth have spoiled us. The entire population connected to the network grid is moving towards an increasingly smaller attention span.
Research says that children below 18 months should be discouraged to use screens other than during video-chatting. And the older kids should have more appropriate media limits and be exposed to only high-quality programming and apps. Instead of screens, they should be encouraged towards healthier sensory activities like reading or playing together.
While prescribing the sensory activities, one should take into account the child’s age, personality, health, and developmental stage. All children are unique. Some may deliberately avoid sensory activities due to their high sensitivity towards bright lights or loud noises. On the opposite spectrum, some kids may seek out hypersensitive activities like playing on outdoor trampolines or riding on rocking toys or seesaws.
An ideal approach would involve collaboration between parents and the child’s doctor to decide the set of sensory activities that would be appropriate for the child.
There are multiple ways we could categorize the sensory activities available to us. Here we are following a simple approach. We are categorizing the activities based on the sense they primarily target.
Taste and smell based Sensory Skills
Most of what we taste is the feedback from smell and touch. Even the texture of the object plays a crucial role. The smell is arguably the most developed sense at birth. Infants can even recognize the smell of their mother’s milk. This is why certain smells and tastes can take us back to our childhood.
Activity: Identify the smell
Use different herbs, oils, and substances with a strong smell like coffee or cinnamon sticks. Now take a small cloth bag, preferably made of cotton wool, and put a small portion of each item, one by one, and offer them to the baby. Encourage them to identify the smell.
If the child is old enough, you could broaden the activity by making them taste each item. Since every new food is a sensory adventure for a child, you should offer them a range of tasty experiences from very early on. Initially, offer them only one item at a time.
While the child smells and tastes an item, talk about its type and taste. This could further increase the brain connections associated with food’s taste and smell. Regularly look for opportunities where you could add a dimension of smell and taste as the child explores different items.
Note: Check for allergies before offering them a substance.
Vision-based Sensory Skills
Sight is not completely developed at birth. However, it is the most engaged sense available to children. In the early stages, an infant’s sight is adapted to focus at the right distance to develop an emotional bonding with their mother whilst feeding.
Exposing the child to colorful pictures and places could appropriately activate their sense of sight. Babies, as early as four months, begin to reach a stage in which they can purposefully coordinate eye movements and hands.
Activity: Blindfold walk at home
Blindfold your child and encourage him to walk around the house or in the yard. Children could also use guidance from you to navigate the environment.
This activity can make children more mindful of their immediate environment. It could also help in developing other senses because when we are blindfolded, we experience the world differently. Smell and touch play a crucial role too.
Touch-based Sensory Skills
Touch is essential. It positively helps children in their development of physical and cognitive skills. It even impacts bonding. There are so many activities that you could use to develop a sense of touch in children. We don’t necessarily need expensive toys. A pillow, a cloth piece, your voice, and your touch are enough for most of the touch-based activities. Here we are going with a simple activity called Trickly rain.
Activity: Follow My Finger
Put your child on your lap or sit him in front of you. Start the play by making a gentle pitter-patter motion from one body part to another. Now gently move your hands from the head to their shoulders and then down to their back.
As music further enriches the experience, you could also use a rhyming song while moving your hand on the child’s body parts.
Hearing based Sensory Skills
Our sense of hearing at birth is closely related to our survival. The set of reflexes, like startling, are well in place right from birth. Since the modern world is bombarded with the background noise of gadgets and traffic, it has become all the more crucial to offer children enough opportunities to develop auditory senses.
Activity: Music Making
Use a collection of non-musical instruments like utensils, spoons, drumsticks, mugs, and small buckets and show the children how to create beats with them. Observe them explore the options and help them engage in music-making.
This activity could help kids with concentration. And if done right, it may offer opportunities to explore problem-solving.
Movement-based Sensory Skills
Movement-based sensory activities can enhance children’s attention and focus. Children who have difficulties with processing movement may need additional help to feel regulated within certain environments. With regular practice, an efficient movement routine can offer an intensive sensory input. It could help a child with self-regulation both at home and in the classroom.
Movement-based sensory activities should always be performed under the guidance of an adult.
Activity: Yoga for kids
Decide on a set of poses that your kid could do and then bring them to the yoga mat. Join them in their yoga practice so they could follow your lead. If necessary, use music in the background. The music captures attention and provides necessary cues during the practice. In this way, we could combine beat patterns and body movements.
Baby Kobra and Tree are good yoga poses to start with. Regular practice of yoga could increase confidence, awareness, and balance in children.