Sensory toys play a crucial role in a child's development and long-term learning journey. In short, they provide the basis for everything from sensory exploration and cognitive growth to the acquisition of essential motor skills.
Whether your child has specific developmental needs or you simply want to enhance their playtime experience, sensory toys can be invaluable assets.
What Are Sensory Toys?
They are specifically designed to stimulate the senses and use different textures, colours, shapes, sounds, and scents to engage their children in a variety of ways. Research shows us that sensory play allows children to explore and come to terms with the world around them. It has a wide-ranging impact, fostering their cognitive, physical, social and emotional development.
This is particularly crucial in the early years of a child's life. At this time, they have yet to develop a full view of the world around them. Their interaction comes from their external environment as they slowly start to develop and refine their sensory processing skills.
Enhancing Cognitive Skills
Including sensory toys brings opportunities to engage in imaginative and creative play, something that is critical to the development of cognitive skills. Great toys encourage problem-solving and critical thinking. Children manipulate and interact with the different sensory elements in amazing ways. Building blocks with various textures and colours, for example, help create spatial awareness, lead to pattern recognition and encourages logical thinking.
Developing Fine Motor Skills
The use of manipulation and the employment of fine motor activities are essential for developing dexterity and coordination. Squishy balls, puzzles and textured objects may seem elemental to us.
But they require children to use their fingers and hands, strengthening muscles and fine-tuning their motor skills in remarkable ways. These activities also promote hand-eye coordination and finger control, laying the foundation for important skills such as writing.
Social and Emotional Growth
When children engage in sensory experiences together, such as playing with water tables or sensory bins, they learn to share, take turns and collaborate. This fosters important social interaction and cooperation and, over time, creates more complex emotions such as empathy.
Types of Sensory Toys
There are various types available, each targeting specific sensory experiences. Here are the most common categories:
- Tactile Toys: These focus on the sense of touch and provide different textures, surfaces and materials for children to explore. Examples include squishy toys, textured balls and fabric-based toys.
- Auditory Toys: These stimulate the child’s hearing and include items that produce different sounds or music. Toys range from musical instruments to sound puzzles which create a whole new world of rhythm, pitch, and tone.
- Visual Toys: These engage the eyes and feature bright colours, contrasting patterns and other visually stimulating elements. Examples include light-up toys, visual tracking games and bottles filled with colourful objects.
- Olfactory Toys: These focus on the child’s sense of smell. They can include scented playdough, scratch-and-sniff books or scented markers and they help children explore different aromas and connect them to the world around them.
- Gustatory Toys: You can’t forget taste when it comes to play. These toys include edible sensory materials like flavoured gels or textured snacks. It's important to ensure that these toys are age-appropriate and safe for children to consume.
When it comes to sensory toys for your child, the more the merrier. Introducing as much variety as you can is a great way to promote better cognitive development even from a young age.