- Encourages creativity, there is no particular purpose so motivation, engagement and play is entirely intrinsically motivated and is process driven rather than product.
- Children often feel confident to experiment when there is no obvious adult directed purpose.
- It can be therapeutically engaging, relaxing or releasing aggression (e.g. large amounts of playdough)
- It can help alleviate anxiety around getting messy (including difficulties around eating/ mealtimes) if handled sensitively.
- Encourages imaginative play, so often shaving foam becomes food, spaghetti becomes...
- Teaches children about properties of materials and if children are included in the setting up of several types of sensory play materials e.g. cornflour (cornstarch to American friends) and water, children will learn about changes.
- Supports early communication skills e.g. Ready, steady...splash, requesting more or rejecting as case may be.
- Supports descriptive language development particularly creative, rhyming, onomatopoeic and alliterative vocabulary e.g. squelchy, melchy; squiggly, squirmy, spaghetti.
- But most of all it is inclusive, it engages all at equal levels.
One thing to note though is that some children are defensive to sensory materials this is particularly common in children with Autistic spectrum disorders, visual impairments and specific diagnosis of sensory processing disorders. When children have difficulties in this area it is important to present sensory opportunities sensitively e.g. incorporating interests: Thomas is the snow (shaving foam), presenting in small quantities, providing tools to reduce need to touch in initial stages, supporting child with hand under hand approach (rather than over), presenting messy materials in ziplock bags etc.
Regarding children with severe visual impairment it is important to remember that touch can be their "vision", therefore reticence to engage in messy play can be due to this interfering with their ability get precise touch feedback from thier environment (like fogging up ones glasses when opening the oven). Also their fingers are likely to be extra sensitive, when this is the case start with dry sensory materials and again present in small quantities.
I have created a Sensory Play booklet of ideas, to download Sensory Fun click here.
Preschool Education also have a nice range of ideas (be aware of risk assessing some of the ideas, using common sense)."Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play" Heraclitus (Greek Philosopher)