Today is National Summer Learning Day and the Museum is celebrating with a few S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) activities related to sensory play. At The Children’s Museum at La Habra one of our goals is to provide parents with the tools to create their own educational content at home, so we decided to create a mini-guide to sensory play for parents who want to do hands-on learning in their own environment!
Sensory play is any hands-on learning activity that engages a child’s senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, sound) and encourages them to investigate and explore the world around them through play! When a child’s senses are being engaged they are building nerve connections in the brain’s pathways that lead to the development of language, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, problem solving, and more! Sensory activities are extremely beneficial to all children and they transcend boundaries of neuro-diversity, age, and ability!
Sensory play is not just the activity itself, it’s being present and intentional with a child and engaging them with open-ended questions about the activity you’re doing together. Open-ended questions allow children to investigate their findings, make observations, and hone in their scientific inquiry skills. Let’s go over some examples!
For our National Summer Learning Day we will be working with Orbeez and conducting an ice-block excavation exploration! Although the activities themselves will be engaging and fun, it’s important to ask a child what they’re experiencing. Some questions we might ask about Orbeez are: can you describe what they feel like? what colors are they? do they roll? do they bounce? can you build with them? can you scoop them with a spoon? can you squish them?
While conducting an ice-block excavation, we might ask: what does the ice feel like? what happens to the ice in the sun? what is inside of the ice? what can we do to get objects out of it? if I spray the ice block with water, what happens?
It’s less about feeling the ice block itself and more about how we engage with the ice block! You can make your own ice block at home and use spoons, salt, turkey basters, or even cloth to explore!
Sensory activities don’t have to be difficult, expensive, or time-consuming. Sensory play can be open-ended, like setting out materials and asking questions about the materials and their application. Sensory play can also be structured, like asking children to sort or organize things by color or shape!
There is no “wrong” in sensory play, just learning! And remember, messes can be educational too!
As stated earlier, we want to provide parents, educators, and caretakers with the tools to recreate these activities (and more!) at home. Educational activities can, and should, be easy, fun, cheap, and accessible to everyone! Below are a list of everyday items that you can use to create an awesome and educational sensory activity by yourself:
Helpful web resources:
Sensory Activities for Children with Autism
Exploring the benefits of sensory play
The Complete Guide to Sensory Play
Sensory Play List and Activities
Why Sensory Play is Important to Development