Sensory play is all the rage at the moment and sports some amazing benefits, but does it have to be calm to be calming?

People sometimes think activities that are intended to “calm” children, have to be… calm… it sounds weird but I’m here to shake that opinion up a little… ok, a lot!!

Sensory play has become a bit of a buzz word lately (for good reason) with some fabulous ideas emerging regarding sensory play ideas at home and even some fab services dedicated to this.

Tiny Seeds offer Creative play classes

that encourage Children to explore, imagine and discover through creative, sensory and messy play, storytelling, music, physical activities, arts and crafts.

Tiny Seeds nurture children’s development of a playful attitude, imagination, divergent thinking, problem solving and communication skills through carefully designed classes.

Classes are held on the beautiful South Coast of NSW. Mondays:  Berry Thursdays: Nowra.

               

Sensory processing

Sensory play or sensory toys are often associated with children who may have sensory processing difficulties or a specific SPD, ASD, ADHD diagnosis or mental health diagnosis such as anxiety. The benefits for these children are endless.

However, all children benefit from sensory experiences. Sensory play encourages learning through exploration, curiosity, problem solving and creativity. It also helps to build connections in the brain and fosters the development of language and motor skills.

Sensory play can also assist with focus, helps children to block out distractions and encourages the development of multiple senses and systems in the body. ‘Only about children’ discuss the advantages of sensory play and the father of the theory – Jean Piaget, who proposed that children need environmental stimuli and experiences to guide their cognitive development. He suggested that children use sensory play to digest new knowledge and store it for later use. He argued that this type of play was key to a child’s brain development.

Kidsense  outline the common features of sensory processing disorder (SPD)…

  • Heightened reactivity to sound, touch or movement.
  • Under-reactive to certain sensations (e.g.  high pain threshold).
  • Appears lethargic/disinterested or “in their own world”.
  • Has difficulty regulating their own behavioural and emotional responses.
  • Is easily distracted, shows poor attention and concentration.
  • Poor motor skills.
  • Poor sleep patterns.
  • Has restricted eating habits or is a picky eater.
  • Becomes distressed during self-care tasks.
  • Loves movement. Seeks out intense pressure. 
  • Avoids movement based equipment (e.g. swings, slides).
  • Appears floppy or has ‘low muscle tone’, tires easily and is often “slumped”.
  • Performs tasks with too much force, has big movements, moves too fast, writes too light or too hard.
  • Has delayed communication and social skills, is hard to engage in two-way interactions.
  • Prefers to play on their own or has difficulty in knowing how to play with other children.
  • Has difficulty accepting changes in routine or transitioning between tasks.
  • Has difficulty engaging with peers and sustaining friendships.

Common difficulties often (not always) experienced by the child with sensory processing disorder (SPD) as explored by KidSense

  • Follow instructions at home and school.
  • Expressing ideas, thoughts and feelings using language.
  • Engaging in meaningful interactions with peers.
  • Poor planning and sequencing.
  • Poor executive functioning.
  • Poor working memory.
  • Poor attention and concentration.
  • Poor organisational skills.
  • Difficulties with gross and fine motor skills.
  • Behavioural difficulties
  • Poor play skills

Although all children may struggle with sensory processing or be sensitive to sensory input from time to time or more reguarly…

Sensory play can be calming…

kneading playdough, watching a lava lamp or galaxy lights or making one of the simply stunning calming kits from My  calm Corner.

My Calm Corner

is a small business dedicated to providing products and tools to help children build connections, develop skills and most importantly have fun, through meaningful and open-ended play that fosters creativity and imagination.

Their Calming Kits are all about connection, fun and encouraging mindfulness as a part of daily routines.

Regulating the sensory world

In my earlier years of teaching, I attended one of the most memorable in services I’ve been to so far, run by OT, speaker and songwriter – Geneive Jereb who specialises in sensory regulation. I remember her presentation really sparking a light in me, she spoke about how we expect kids to sit still for such long periods in schools and how this goes against all of their natural instincts and ultimately inhibits learning. When we see kids rocking, fiddling or swinging on their chair in class it is often seen as disruptive and thought that they must be uninterested (maybe they are…). However the child could simply be trying to regulate and that movement they’re being chastised for, could be their body’s only way of regaining calm, control and focus. 

She discussed the oral needs that even older kids and some adults have, where biting a pencil is one of the most common and effective sensory regulators and while a child may get in trouble in a classroom context for chewing, this may be their sub conscious means of regulating and regaining any sense of focus and control. Genevive highlights the significance of rhythm, respiration, relationship, play and movement in regulating the sensory enviromment.

Early Years Play for learning

Neuroscience has proven that the more you expose babies to how the world works in the first 3 years, the richer brain neural networks become. Monti&Me Playkits help parents give their babies early experiences that are developmentally appropriate at the right stage.

The Sustainable play kits, grounded in neuroscience, that encourage sensory exploration, tactile development and developmentally appropriate experiences are…

  1. Hello world play set.
  2. On the move playset.
  3. Let’s explore playset.

The chaos and the calm

These guys are sensory seekers…

They love rough and active play and really enjoy making a mess and exploring. They feel big emotions – good and bad and need help with regulation… they have BIG energy that can easily get out of hand and some people think the answer to this is to keep them calm…all the time. I mean, while that’s a lovely thought in theory…it’s not only completely unrealistic – it does the opposite of what it is intended to. They are also currently stuck in lockdown so they are feeling a bit cooped up and needing to get some big energy out.

So when I set up this sensory tray for them with shaving foam, little characters, paddlepop sticks, bits and pieces and food colouring – I knew it wouldn’t be a quiet, calm activity – and it didn’t need to be. Activities don’t need to be calm and quiet to provide regulation.

They started by getting their hands into the foam, experiencing the different  texture, mixing colours and role playing with the characters… all EXCELLENT learning opportunities. They then decided to cover their arms with foam and role play “monsters”, giggling the whole time.

What came next looked like pure chaos – they were throwing shaving foam at each other, standing in the tray and feeling the foam between their toes, rubbing it into each other’s hair and all over themselves, jumping on the trampoline watching the foam splatter everywhere and used the hose to spray each other clean. They also sprayed the bits of foam on the grass to uncover the characters, screaming “look, magic!”

My neighbours were probably watching on thinking we had all lost our freakin minds, my grandparents live on the same property as us and they’re definitely from a different school of thought in regard to anything messy, loud or seemingly unnecessary so I’m sure they thought we were completely bonkers. However what they learned in that play opportunity far outweighs anything they can learn inside 4 walls, sitting still and staying quiet.

They were able to explore scientific concepts as well as…

Social skills

Communication and language development

Texture

Colour mixing

imagination

curiosity

Improving the vestibular system

Character development

Turn taking

Developing their proprioception

Problem solving

Fine and gross motor development

Active play

…Pure joy!

They also gained the much needed sensory regulation their bodies and brains so desperately needed. They were calmer after this activity, my eldest could focus on her home-learning tasks and mr.4 could hold a longer conversation, communicate his needs more appropriately and was generally feeling much calmer. This “chaotic” play didn’t “psych them up”… it did the opposite. Just like rough and tumble play/wrestling before bed helps them fall asleep faster and sleep more peacefully. This definitely doesn’t work for all kids, like everything it depends on the individual but just something to keep in mind that chaos can be calming too.

My Play Story

also Ignite children’s curiosity and imagination through sensory play kits. Sensory play kits are ideal for this because children can create a world and let it take them on a journey to a faraway land, be it under the sea with all the ocean animals, in a fairy garden, or even in prehistoric times with the dinosaurs!

Check out these sensory play experts and many other businesses encouraging learning through play over at our featured businesses

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Ashlei
Triangle Genius