A favorite summer activity is our weekly water day. Children learn best when they engage their senses. Many of our favorite memories are associated with one or more of our senses. Cognitive skills are sharpened by sensory play, problem solving and decision making; simply present a child with a problem and various materials with which to find a solution, and you can almost see the connections their brains are making. Science skills such as cause and effect (what happens when I add water to sand?), gravity (water slides down a funnel, not up) and states of matter (ice melts). Without realizing it, children grow into amateur scientists by making predictions and observations, and even develop analysis skills.
Sensory play encourages children to use descriptive and expressive language, and to find meaning behind essentially meaningless words or gibberish. Take for instance, the word “slimy.” Sure, you can explain what it means
with different adjectives, but until you experience something slimy firsthand, that’s all it will be: words. Children develop prewriting skills as they pour, spoon, grasp and work on eye-hand coordination tasks while using various materials.
Certain sensory play options, like sensory tables, allow children to be in complete control of their actions and experiences, which boosts their confidence in decision making and inspires their eagerness to learn and experiment. Sensory play can also teach kids about cooperation and collaboration. As the children work together or side by side, they learn to understand someone else’s viewpoint. The children also have the opportunity to express themselves and become confident in sharing their ideas with others.
Sensory play benefit the development of fine motor skills by encouraging manipulation of materials, such as mixing, measuring, pouring and scooping, while other examples, such as exploring surfaces, lifting, throwing, rolling and water play, help develop gross motor skills. Even recruiting your child to help you build a sensory table for future explorations is exercising motor skills.
Sensory play provides open-ended opportunities where the process is more important than the product; how children use materials is much more important than what they make with them. Prompting your child to think creatively in order to solve problems or engage in make-believe helps them express their creativity and build self-esteem.
As you can see by the photos, the kids really enjoy this activity! Adding bubbles to the adventure makes it even more exciting, or providing wash clothes to wash toys, or watering plants, pouring water down a slide, hanging a water hose from a limb with a slow drip into the water table gives children the sound of water and they can fill cups up over and over….the ideas are endless!!