Today’s Topic: Sensory Play and Language
What is sensory play?
Sensory play, sometimes known as “messy play,” is simply play that encourages children to use one or more of the senses, including sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance, and movement. Sensory play appeals to children of all ages and is full of opportunities for language enrichment. For more information on the benefits of sensory play, see my post here. Some of our favorite sensory play activities include playing in tubs of colored rice, dry pasta, or pinto beans with kitchen utensils for dumping, filling, pouring, mixing, and transferring. We also LOVE anything that incorporates water!
How does sensory play build language?
As children engage in sensory play, they are gaining valuable, hands-on input about the world around them. Since we know that young children rely on sensory input to learn about their environment, sensory play opportunities are an ideal time to focus on language stimulation in a meaningful context, which is crucial to early language learning.
How can I provide language stimulation through sensory play at home?
Providing language stimulation during sensory play activities doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some ways I use sensory play to build language with my two-year-old twins at home:
Vocabulary expansion- During sensory play activities, I provide lots of language modeling by commenting on what my twins are experiencing. We talk about how things look, feel, smell, move, sound, and sometimes even taste! We also describe actions such as stir, pour, drip, and splash. Since my little ones are very verbal these days, I also do quite a bit of waiting and listening to their spontaneous speech and using language -building strategies to build on what they are saying. Here are some great tips on how to expand and extend your child’s spontaneous utterances from Playing With Words 365.
Pretend play- Sensory experiences are wonderful opportunities to model and engage in pretend play with your little ones, which is wonderful for cognitive and language development. I will be talking more extensively about the relationship between pretend play and language on Thursday. My twins love to “cook” with sensory materials and happily “feed” the results to me, themselves, and all their toys. If you have a little transportation enthusiast on your hands, a few construction vehicles added to a simple sensory bin provides hours of fun!
Social interaction- Engaging in sensory play activities with siblings and/or peers is a great way to practice social language skills. I use sensory play activities to help my twins learn to take turns, politely request things from each other, and engage in early conversations. For more examples on facilitating social language through sensory play, check out my color lab sensory play date post. Plus, you will notice that your little ones often learn more language from interacting with peers than they do from all of your carefully crafted efforts!
I hope you have enjoyed our first installment of the Playing With Language series. Be sure to come back Thursday to check out our Small World Play post, and in the meantime please hop on over to Let’s Grow Speech for some great tips on expanding language using a childhood staple…playdough!
More Great Stuff for You
Looking for more ways to build language through play? Check out all our language posts on our Language Basics page- lots of developmental information, activities, and ideas for building language at home!
Looking for more sensory play activities? Here’s our entire sensory play gallery just for you!