Swirling, twirling learning: Sensory play helps preschoolers build important skills

Preschoolers love to experience their surroundings: they want to splash in puddles, try on mom’s clothes and shoes, make lots of noise, and turn up their noses at funny smells.

Their curiosity and need for hands-on exploration help get them ready for a lifetime of learning. A PBS Parents feature by Danielle Steinberg, titled “Developing and Cultivating Skills Through Sensory Play,” notes  that “Children (and adults) learn best and retain the most information when they engage their senses.”

The article adds, “The most obvious cognitive skills sharpened by sensory play are 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.” In her article, Steinberg also suggests several easy activities that exercise the five senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste.

While all our senses “feed” important information to the brain, visual discrimination becomes super important in early school success. The Psychology Dictionary, defines visual discrimination as “the capacity to differentiate forms, patterns, hidden shapes, or other pictures from alike items which vary from one another in subtle manners.” These abilities begin to emerge during infancy and become more refined as children develop. Visual discrimination relates to early success in virtually every academic area, including math, reading, and writing. Building visual discrimination—and other senses, too--can be easy, fun, and affordable. Here are 5 ideas from School Zone’s Preschool Scholar workbook for imaginative, impromptu, sensory play activities:

What’s Different? Play a game at home that builds visual discrimination skills. While your child is out of the room turn some objects upside down or put them in a different place. Then ask him or her to come back and identify what is different.

Sun Photographs Place objects such as leaves, toys, or shoes on dark construction paper. Place them in direct, bright sunlight for several hours. Remove the objects to see their “shadows” on the paper.

Using the Senses Ask your child to close his or her eyes and listen carefully. Discuss what your child can hear. Then ask your child to smell the air. What can he or she smell? Hand your child a few objects that have different textures. Can he or she identify the objects just by using sense of touch?

Box Blocks Collect several empty shoeboxes and tape the lids tightly. Encourage your child to decorate the boxes with paper, letters, numbers, or pictures. Now the boxes are ready to be used as building blocks for pretend buildings and castles!

Musical Buttons Place several buttons in an assortment of small containers, such as plastic tubs with lids or cardboard boxes. Your child will love to shake the different containers to hear the sounds they make. Also try filling containers with different things, such as rice, popcorn, or dried beans. (Warning: Be sure to keep buttons and other small objects away from infants and toddlers, who are still in that “everything goes into the mouth” natural, exploratory phase!)

What great ways to pass these blah February days.