Sensory play is any activity that stimulates a child’s senses: sight, sound, smell, touch, balance, etc.
Sensory play provides an opportunity for children explore and understand the world around them.
Sensory play can become a guided activity as soon as children start reaching out to grab things with their hands, this guidance can develop alongside the child as families provide different objects, environments and experiences for children.
Each texture and sensation is new and sensory play comes naturally to children as they learn how to interact with the world around them.
These activities are extended for further learning by prompting with questions: is it rough or smooth? Wet or dry? Warm or cold?
Sensory play doesn’t need to be complex and can be started with:
- Natural Objects, such as sand, grass and leaves are perfect to extend with questions.
- Household objects: ripped paper, soapy water, dry rice or legumes, fabric, finger painting.
- Weight and Balance: providing heavy blanket and larger balls.
- Adding scents to play dough with oils or herbs adds another layer of sensation to this play activity.
- Picking leaves (eg. Rosemary or Eucalyptus) and smelling flowers brings an opportunity to discuss these scents, textures, colour and plant names.
Quiet play allows children to develop their independence by learning that they can do things all on their own. Providing a safe space and trusted guidance they can persist with a task and become absorbed and focussed on what they are doing. Children gradually learn that they are capable of handling challenges, and also learn when they need to take a break or change their approach.
Independent play in young children still requires the guidance of adults which may include direction (providing activities, extending activities, modelling tasks), or restriction (to ensure the safety of the child).
Children will often seek short periods of independent play which may gradually increase over time. How long a child will play independently will be influenced by their age, development, interest in the activity and how familiar they are with quiet/independent play.
Independent play activities:
Emotions and Relaxation
Relaxation improves our mental, emotional, social and physical health and wellbeing.
Relaxation in Quiet Play provides shared activities which encourage us to settle and be confident in ourselves.
Each child’s ability to monitor and regulate their emotions is unique. We learn how to self-regulate our emotions through time and practice, assisted by positive guidance.
One way we can develop emotional skills in children is to encourage their independent focus in play, guiding their tasks with modelling and ensuring their safety, but letting them become absorbed in their task.
Some children may find it difficult to relax and may be encouraged to sit down and engage with a book or puzzle or drawing. Adults can model relaxed behaviour and your attention and support in regulating your child’s emotions during this time may be exactly with they need to engage in rest. Physical contact with your child (such as cuddling while you read a book) may help a child feel safe and allow their parasympathetic nervous system, their rest and digest system, to engage which will support their transition to rest or sleep.
Learning when we need to take a rest and how to relax is an important skill for communication and self-regulation, just like understanding when we are thirsty and need to drink.
It is best for our emotional regulation and memory function that we have some relaxation time every day. This quiet play will equip children with skills that can benefit them throughout their lives.
Creating time for quiet, gentle, play & relaxation at home:
- Providing a space your child knows they are always able to go to relax when needed.
Comfortable furniture and soft toys can provide sensory input which encourages relaxation.
- Heartbeat game: children can be reluctant to relax sometimes, this is a good one if your child still has energy to burn. Have them jump up and down for a minute and then sit with their hands over their hearts, focussing on their heartbeats and their breathing. This can be extended by asking what else they notice about their bodies (eg. warm or cold).
- Ringing a bell and asking your child to listen until you can no longer hear any sound. Then extend this by asking what else they can hear around them.
- Listening to guided relaxation or calm music.
- Turning off or putting away screens for some time each day.
- Drawing or painting, puzzles, beading, sewing sensory play, soft furniture.
- 1-2-3 a calmer me – Colleen Patterson
- Albert’s quiet quest – Isabelle Arsenault
- Caillou meets Sophie: a story about autism – Kim Thompson
- Mindful Day – Deborah Hopkinson
- My calm me down book – Trace Moroney
- See, Feel Touch – Ellie Boultwood, Hannah Cockayne, Kylie Hamley