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05
Aug

The importance of sensory play in early childhood

Did you know that babies learn about their world through their senses?

Nature can provide all the learning babies need. Incredibly, nature play is the ultimate sensory experience for your baby.

As parents, we may often feel pressured to buy toys that will help enhance our child’s development. We don’t need them all. We can provide natural, low cost activities for our babies ourselves.

While we are at home, playing our part in restricting the spread of the COVID 19 virus, it’s a perfect time to think about creating fun learning activities for your babies.

If you have no outdoor space, bring the outside in and you can still have fun playing with your baby.

Babies are learning all the time. During the first five years, solid foundations are created for learning in later life. In the first year, babies’ brains will develop thousands of connections as a result of their engagement with the world around them.

To help them, we can provide open-ended activities, where the outcome is not important but the skills and process which assist in the learning is. What better way to learn is there than learning through nature?

Nature provides the perfect multi – sensory playground for open – ended learning to take place. Babies are curious and naturally love to explore. They learn about their world by using their senses to understand their surroundings.

Arthur et al (2015), suggest that nature play can assist babies develop, as they rely on their sensorimotor (sensory/motor) understandings of the world. They can reach, grasp and then mouth objects thus using their senses of touch and taste to explore their environment. Babies also respond to sound very quickly. Sight is also important as infants learn about their world. Loving, positive interactions are also helpful in promoting infant’s communication and social skills.

The good news is that you can do all of this at home as nature play can benefit all aspects of your child’s development.

You can enhance your child’s:

  • language skills (listening and speaking, introducing new vocab),
  • cognitive skills (problem solving, concentration and memory),
  • physical/fine and gross motor skills (grasping, clenching, pulling, scrunching, digging, balancing, climbing, walking, jumping, coordination, crawling on natural and uneven surfaces
  • social skills (communicating, turn taking and enjoying physical closeness) / emotional skills (being supported, encouraged, developing confidence to try new things).

It’s very exciting to think that all this occurs by playing outside!

Angela J. Hanscom’s inspirational book Balanced and Barefoot (2016), shares some fantastic ideas about how outdoor play creates lots of meaningful experiences and we’ve created an Animal Senses Printable here for you to use when outdoors with your child. Hearing the birds, feeling the warmth of the sun, dampness of the rain, the breeze of your skin, smelling the fragrant blossoms and flowers or smelling cut grass are all fantastic sensory experiences. The exposure to these bursts of stimuli, helps babies’ brains to organise, adapt, process and remember pieces of information.

A couple of tips to remember when playing with your baby outside:

  • Check that the space is safe.
  • Provide open-ended activities.
  • Cuddle and talk to your baby about what they see, hear, smell, touch and taste.
  • Encourage them to move their body and offer praise as they practice their new skills.

Angela J. Hanscom’s inspirational book Balanced and Barefoot (2016), shares some fantastic ideas about how outdoor play creates lots of meaningful experiences and we’ve created an Animal Senses Printable here for you to use when outdoors with your child. Hearing the birds, feeling the warmth of the sun, dampness of the rain, the breeze of your skin, smelling the fragrant blossoms and flowers or smelling cut grass are all fantastic sensory experiences. The exposure to these bursts of stimuli, helps babies’ brains to organise, adapt, process and remember pieces of information.

Eco Explorers Australia runs nature-based bush playgroups for children to experience a range of nature and sensory play opportunities. Visit our bush playgroups page for our list of locations and days.

This article was written by Newport Lakes bush playgroup facilitator and early childhood educator, Kirsti Salvado.