From the moment our children are born, they use their senses to explore and try to make sense of the world around them. They do this by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, moving and hearing. This exploration is crucial to brain development – it helps to build nerve connections in the brain’s pathways and sensory play forms the basis of this exploration for our babies.
So what exactly are our senses and how can we develop them in our children? We often talk about the five senses, these are:
Taste – the stimulation that comes when our taste receptors react to chemicals in our mouth.
Touch – the stimulation that comes from touch receptors in our skin that react to pressure, heat/cold, or vibration.
Smell – the stimulation of chemical receptors in the upper airways (nose).
Sight – the stimulation of light receptors in our eyes, which our brains then interpret into visual images.
Hearing – the reception of sound, via mechanics in our inner ear.
However there are two others we commonly miss:
Body awareness (also known as proprioception) – the feedback our brains receive from stretch receptors in our muscles and pressure receptors in joints which enable us to gain a sense where our bodies are in space.
Balance – the stimulation of the vestibular system of the inner ear to tell us our body position in relation to gravity.
Every person has a threshold for sensory stimulation. If you have a high threshold, it is harder for you to register sensory stimulation, a little bit like your sensory cup is never quite full (under-stimulation). If you have a low threshold it is very easy to register sensory stimulation, a little bit like your sensory cup is overflowing (over stimulation). Often our babies and toddlers seek or avoid sensory stimulation almost involuntarily and with little control over which sense they like to explore on any given day. Has your baby ever gone on a ‘tasting spree’, seemingly placing everything they can grab into their mouths? Or maybe your toddler has developed an obsession with swinging and jumping? No amount of movement seems to satisfy their urge to bounce and sway around. Rest assured this is all exactly as it should be and a perfect basis for sensory exploration through play.
So, what is sensory play?
Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates your young child's senses: touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight and hearing.
Sensory activities promote and encourage exploration. Children naturally use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and explore and are able to investigate and engage at their own pace, using whichever sense they prefer. This can, in time, encourage our children to develop and refine their sensory thresholds and therefore supports their brain to create stronger connections to process and respond to sensory information.
For example, sometimes a child may find it difficult to play alongside a peer, especially in a busy, noisy environment. They may feel ‘sensory overload’ and become completely introverted and closed off to their environment. Or contrastingly, become overstimulated and unable to focus on any activity whatsoever. Gentle exploration of sounds and singing activities through sensory play helps a child learn to adapt to being able to block out the noise which is not important and focus on the play which is occurring alongside their peer without the sensory overload that they may have felt in the past.
Another example is a child who is particularly fussy with eating foods with a wet texture such as spaghetti; the use of sensory play can assist the child in touching, smelling and playing with the texture in an environment with little expectation. As our children develop trust and understanding of textures, smells and tastes, it helps build positive pathways in the brain to say it is safe to engage with this food. Sensory play literally helps shape what children to believe to be positive and safe in the brain. Ultimately, shaping the choices children make and impacting behaviour.
What does all this mean for Spark Sensory?
Well, put quite simply, we plan and deliver a range of sensory activities within every session that appeal, develop and nurture sensory development in your children. Our sessions are carefully designed to ensure that every session includes positive touch, music and movement activities, visual stimulation, textures, smells, proprioceptive input and a whole host of fun. We theme each session; our baby sensory is often centred around a familiar concept such as ‘shapes all around’, ‘wheels, wheels, wheels’ and ‘whatever the weather.’ Our sensory story sessions focus each week on a story, which we use to shape and influence the activities that we deliver. As mums ourselves, we are passionate about promoting and encouraging time for you to relax and enjoy high quality experiences with your child. Finally, we know how important it is to build a supportive network so we promise to always allow time for you to chat with other mums and have a cuppa too. We even promise to hold your baby for you, so you can dunk a biscuit in ‘said cuppa’. After all, as mums we are acutely aware of the all-important sensory input that only a chocolate digestive can bring, especially after 4 hours broken sleep and 3 dirty nappies before 10am!