Play forms an essential part of the physical and cognitive development in babies, toddlers and young children. During this developmental phase, it is paramount that infants and children are provided with ample play opportunities, which should include access to a wide variety of toys, including sensory toys.
Young infants and children learn and develop at a rapid rate – a baby of only a few months old is already absorbing copious amounts of information from the surrounding world, much of which is learnt via touch and stimulation of the senses. Therefore, the toys and type of play that babies and toddlers engage with have a significant influence on their learning experience. Creating a sensory environment from a young age is beneficial in many ways and can contribute towards early development and education.
What Is Sensory Play?
Sensory play is any type of activity which involves stimulating a young child’s senses. The 5 senses include taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell – they are used from birth to help children make sense of the world around them.
Engagement in sensory play is sometimes described as the foundation of all skills which children subsequently go on to learn in their later years, such as reading, writing and solving mathematical problems. This type of play helps to develop the senses and build cognitive skills, stimulating a child’s brain development.
What Are Sensory Toys?
Sensory toys come in a variety of different forms - all of which are designed to engage a child’s attention both physically and cognitively by stimulating one or more of the 5 senses:
Sight – Vibrant colours and contrasts in the form of interior nursery décor or toys can captivate an infant or young child’s attention and stimulate visual interest.
Hearing – Sensory toys and objects which make a noise can help to support auditory engagement. Such types of sounds may be rustling, bells, whistles, crinkling or other percussion instruments and so forth.
Touch – Whilst all materials are essentially tactile, the form and finish of children’s toys can vary considerably, with contrasting types of materials ranging from soft and fluffy, to hard and bumpy.
Smell – Specific aromas can stimulate the sense of smell and provoke curiosity.
Taste – Toys which provide oral satisfaction or pleasant tastes may include teething rings or other similar types of toys.
Different Types of Sensory Toys
- Percussion instruments
- Crinkly books
- Sensory shapes
- Wooden teething beads
- Shiny surfaces
- Toys with mirrors
- Activity walkers
- Activity tiles
What Are the Benefits of Sensory Play?
A wide range of developmental benefits to infants and young children are offered by sensory play, including but not limited to, the following:
Sensory play can help to strengthen brain development, enhance memory and the ability to complete more complex tasks, as well as helping to improve hand to eye coordination.
Being given sensory toys encourages children to talk about new textures and shapes, subsequently stimulating language practice and the use of words associated with the toys or activities they are engaged with.
Fine and Gross Motor Skills
Fine motor skills deal with the ability to coordinate small muscle groups responsible for more fiddly tasks such as writing, tying shoelaces, etc. Gross motor skills are defined as the coordination of larger muscle groups responsible for activities such as walking, running, jumping. Tactile play in infants and young children can aid the development of both fine motor skills and gross motor skills with toys such as the baby gym, helping to stimulate movement and activity for babies.
Sensory toys can help to encourage young children to play more interactively, promoting social skills such as sharing/turn-taking, communication, decision making and confidence.
Calming and Comforting
A restless infant or young child can be calmed by playing with a sensory toy – it may help them to regulate their internal discomfort – even if it is due to boredom or another type of discomfort.
Active sensory play helps children to develop a sense of their surroundings and become more alert. Helping babies and toddlers to become aware of which information is useful and what can be filtered out.
Last but by no means least, sensory play is fun and exciting for infants and young children – encouraging them to explore and investigate the world around them.
Creating A Sensory World
Creating a sensory environment can be achieved through the use of sensory toys as well as other types of furnishings and decorations, providing a simple and effective way to stimulate brain development, allowing infants and young children to build up an understanding of objects, spaces, people and interactions.
How We Can Help
Le Toy Van is a long-standing family-run company which specialises in imaginative, ethically made wooden toys. We offer a range of sensory toys for babies, toddlers and young children specially designed to spark curiosity, develop the senses, stimulate creative play and aid in cognitive development.