What Are Sensory Activities and Why Are They So Valuable to Preschoolers?
However, the return to messy play (now called sensory activities) began about 20 ago years when kids such as my own son were getting diagnosed with autism. Many kids with autism have what's called Sensory Processing Disorder, meaning they have problems organizing the sensations coming from their bodies and their environment. A child who is overly sensitive to touch may get annoyed by itchy tags in his clothes. A kid who is under sensitive to touch may play too rough, bumping into others and knocking them to the ground. A youngster who is overly sensitive to sounds may run away and hide when she hears a vacuum or blender. A child who is overly sensitive to light may hate to go outdoors.
Occupational therapists working with these kids found that sensory activities helped them immensely. But they also discovered how hugely beneficial they were for ALL kids. Sensory activities help children in the following ways:
- They let kids discover the world in an age-appropriate way: through their senses. This is how children learn and make sense of their environment.
- They build language. When children examine the world -- its textures, tastes, and sounds -- they're picking up new words in a meaningful way: rough and smooth, shrill and low, salty and sweet.
- They enhance fine motor skills. With preschoolers engaging in more screen time, it's essential they have experiences that develop the all-important muscles in their hands and fingers. These activities include rolling and pounding play-dough, stringing beads, and playing with stickers. These will help children when they begin kindergarten and need to hold a pencil correctly and comfortably.
- They're soothing. Too much screen time and too many structured activities result in kids who are stressed-out, agitated, and tense. Sensory activities such as playing in a warm bath, putting together a puzzle, and painting at an easel are relaxing and peaceful.
- They're hands-on. Studies show children are more likely to learn and remember when they do, not simply watch.