Benefits of sensory play for children.

sensory play

Brain Development

Engaging a child in sensory play helps strengthen their brain development for learning, which enhances their memory and ability to complete more complex learning tasks.

Language Development

Sensory play helps children learn new ways of talking about the world. It supports their language development and encourages them to communicate effectively with others whilst playing. 

Fine and Gross Motor Skills

Children identify objects by touch during tactile sensory play, which helps them develop their fine motor skills such as, squeezing, pulling, pushing, throwing and pinching. 

Problem-Solving Skills

By experimenting with different objects, children develop problem-solving skills and decision-making skills. They begin to find solutions to obstacles they come across – such as ‘how to make sand stick together’.

Cognitive Growth

Sensory play supports a child’s cognitive development; enhancing their thought process, understanding and reasoning. As children manipulate new materials, they learn to understand new concepts – such as ‘sink and float’. 

Social Interaction

A positive play environment encourages children to interact and work with others harmoniously, which is essential for a child’s development. They begin to share their ideas and build new friendships.  

Awareness

Active play helps children become more self-aware and body-aware, which helps them develop a better sense of space around them.

Comforting

Therapeutic sensory play, using items such as light up toys and therapy balls, can help calm an anxious or restless child. 

Adaptability

Sensory play encourages children to adapt in new situations. They begin to learn that they can use resources in a variety of ways and differentiate between different scenarios through discovery.

Ofsted have recently included sensory food education in one of their blogs and how this can promote children’s holistic development. 

kids food sensory development

What is sensory food education? 

This hands on approach teaches children how to use all five senses; smell, sight, taste and hear to explore food and their own personal food preferences. It captures children’s curiosity and gives them the opportunity to discover new foods which gives they may or may not have tired at home. Learning through play helps build familiarity and can lead to an increased acceptance of new foods. Sometimes a child may have tried a food at home and dislike it, but can find that the food becomes more appealing in a new setting, surrounded by friends and familiar adults. 

Why do we need sensory education? 

According to The Food Foundation, the number of children eating little or no vegetables has increased in the last ten years. Nearly a third of primary school eat less than one portion of vegetables a day. Research shows that if children enjoy eating healthy foods, they are more likely to eat them for life. Sensory food education can help address this, as evidence suggests it can increase children’s willingness to try new foods. 

What are the principles of sensory food? 

Sensory food education takes place away from mealtimes, with familiar adults and peers. Asking children open-ended questions, such as ‘what does celery sound like?’ captures innate curiosity and enables them to feel free to explore foods. 

Ensure children feel in control – no one has to try and no one has to like. 

This removes the expectation and pressure to eat he foods, meaning children are more likely to try and potentially enjoy what is on offer. 

Impact of sensory food education

By offering a simple, practical approach to healthy eating that positively changes children’s food choices.

  • It can aid speech and language, enriching vocabulary 
  • Encourage children to try an increased diversity of fresh foods
  • Promote a greater understanding of the world
  • Help children to understand their likes and dislikes and respect those of others
  • Increase self confidence 
  • Sensory food education also has benefits for practitioners as it:
  • Offers fun activities to learn about food 
  • Requires minimal equipment 
  • Can be completed using small amounts of fruit and vegetables 
  • Connects well to activities such as, gardening, cooking, books and art 

Advice for early years practitioners 

Helping children broaden their food preferences and develop confidence in eating healthy foods can be challenging. Here are some tips: 

  • Establish rules – no one needs to try and no needs to like as the babies for food experiments
  • Play simple sensory games, such as what’s in the bag? To engage the most reluctant
  • Get parents involved, tell them the foods they have been exploring and let them know of any preferences that have changed as a result 
  • You can teach children about how to explore food – for example, smell and feel before they taste. 
  • Ensuring children understand they can explore food through their other senses before tasting if they so wish to do so
  • Using open ended questions so children can share their thoughts and findings. For example, what does it look like? Do it remind you of anything? 

Food safety 

It is important to keep food safety in mind. You should ensure food tasting is served in sizes and shapes appropriate to the child. You should also check for any allergies or intolerance before starting the activity. 

A simple but powerful experience for children is enjoying a meal with adults. At the table, begins our first experience with solid foods; we squish it, push it, smear it, lick it, smell it and taste it. The dining table or highchair begins the journey of sensory learning. Cooking engages the five senses through hands-on experiences: seeing, touching, hearing, smelling and tasting.

  • Seeing: As we prepare foods, children can look at foods to describe colour, shape, and size. After food is prepared, talk through how items such as colour, shape, and size have changed. For example: A whole fresh pineapple is bumpy; green, yellow or somewhere in between with big with green spikes coming out of the top. After a pineapple is prepared it is yellow and round.
  • Touching: Many foods we eat have different textures. Describing the textures of food before and after it is prepared is a great activity with children. For example, foods can be described as smooth, slippy, scratchy, bumpy, sandy, soft, or hard.
  • Hearing: As food is prepared, children can identify the many different sounds that can be heard. When carrots are cut, they make a crunching sound. When you eat cereal, it makes a crackle sound.  Tossing lettuce makes a rustle sound and chicken sizzles when cooked in a pan.
  • Smelling: Mouth Watering smells can be as enjoyable as taste. Foods can smell sweet like an orange, sour like a lemon, savoury like crackers, or spicy like salsa.  Helping children describe the smells of food will also increase the pleasure of tasting foods, because we taste a large percentage of food through smell.
  • Tasting: Beyond the sight, sound, touch, and smell of food, there is taste. Bringing all the senses together through eating the food.  Helping children describe how food tastes: sour like a lemon, sweet like oranges, buttery like a biscuit, spicy like peppers, zesty like a tomato, or salty like a pretzel.