We know from research that sensory play allows children to engage with their environment, develop social skills, language and learn. For children with special educational needs where a child’s ability to learn in the same way as their peers is affected, sensory play can be highly beneficial.
A sensory play tray can engage numerous senses, creating an inviting, calming and tactile stimulus for children of all abilities. Playing alongside peers in such an environment takes away the pressure for a particular outcome and allows the children to develop their own games, scenarios and learning experience.
Social relationships become more natural if children are all engaged in digging in the sand or finding letters in the tub of dried pasta. While the learning aspect is what letter sounds are found, the focus is on the fun of digging! A sensory table filled with animals, vehicles, different textures, scent pouches, nature items and sound shakers is a platform for all learning abilities and open-ended play. By theming the play table, different learning goals can be incorporated because – as Albert Einstein stated – ‘Play is the highest form of research’.
Learning through sensory stimulus
As children learn to use their senses more and more, the better they become at exploring the world via those senses. For instance, if a child with SEN is more open to tactile learning, then teaching with this in mind will be beneficial to their individual development. Learning to write doesn’t have to be just sat at a table with a pencil and paper, but can be mark making on a tray filled with foam or forming letters out of play-dough. Once the letter formation and hand-eye coordination is learnt, the finer motor skill of writing can be introduced.
Using a combination of senses can also be beneficial to everyday learning. By listening to a story read aloud whilst following the words in a book and hearing the difference in expression, a child can develop language, emotion and social skills. Music and dance will allow gross motor skills to develop and can incorporate learning key information such as days of the week, the alphabet or number sequences. The use of different approaches to play and learning will allow a child with SEN to get the most from their environment.
Incorporating sensory play
We are all different and how we learn is different too. Therefore, it is important to recognise, particularly for SEN children, how their needs can be met to give the best learning experience possible. By incorporating various forms of sensory play into the everyday learning experience we are able to enhance the learning journey of every child. Allowing children the luxury of discovering their world in more interesting and stimulating ways means they can experience challenges, success and peer teaching, whatever their ability!
About the author
Lisa Lane launched Sensory Scenes in 2014 with the aim to provide themed bags of fun for play, exploring and learning. With three boys of her own, she is passionate about children being able to manipulate, explore and use their imagination. Sensory Scenes’ themed bags are perfect for individual play, sensory tray play and themed subject planning.