Thursday, January 22, 2009

Embracing the Mess and the Noise: Seeing the Importance of Sensory Experiences

Does your child love to pour, fill and repeat in the WaterWays neighborhood? Does she enjoy making and listening to the rattle, shake, and hum of the instruments in the Music Room? Does he seem entranced by the colors and music of the Color My Way exhibit?

Children enjoy (and sometimes even crave) these experiences that stir the senses. And while we as adults do not always crave (or sometimes even enjoy) activities that are messy, wet, or noisy, they are foundational learning experiences.

The Sensory Stage of Learning
Sensory activities are appealing to young children because they are fun and answer the important questions-“What is this?” and “What does this do?” For example, children learn that they cannot hold a lot of water in their hands without it running through their fingertips and down their shirts. Similarly, in a
previous post, we’ve mentioned the importance of mouthing and how it furthers children's understanding of the world around them.

As children get a little older, they may have a better idea of what can be done with objects but continue to need to use their senses to help them test their theories and better answer questions like, “What happens if?” A three-year-old child might learn “If I hit this drum hard, it makes a louder noise.” A five-year-old may mix two or three paint colors together to learn what other colors he can create.

Exploring the Senses With Your Child
Here are some Play at Home and Play at the Museum activities for you and your child:

Too cold to go outside, but tempted to play in the snow? Bring the snow inside for some Play at Home fun. Scoop some snow into a large container and bring it inside to explore. Ask your child, How does the snow feel? (Wet, cold, squishy, soft?) If your child prefers, let him play with the snow while wearing his mittens inside. Don’t forget to save some snow in the freezer to bring out for some summer fun!
Using rich vocabulary encourages children to think and talk about the experience.

At DCM, the Creativity Connections neighborhood offers many visually stimulating play activities for children. Discover the Light Effects and Shadow Play exhibits and create a light spiral inside the Light Painting Room and your own shadow art in Shadow Lab.
Though shadow and light are not objects that can be picked up or handled, these experiences provide opportunities for investigation and exploration of how light and shadows move, bend, bounce and change in our physical world.

Make your own batch of smelly play dough. Mix
your favorite recipe with any flavor of drink mix (Kool-Aid, Wyler’s, etc.) or cocoa powder to create something scented for your child to sculpt and squish. Not only is smell another way for children to investigate their world, but pounding, squishing and feeling play dough are also appropriate outlets for emotional release.

Join us at DCM for our Creativity Program, “Makin’ Munchies,” and explore new foods and recipes. During this program, you and your child can create your own healthful treat to try. Watch your child’s reaction to the new food (facial expression or movements). Don’t forget to ask your child, How does it taste?
Cooking experiences give children the opportunity to explore their world using all of their senses.

Inside the Music Room at DCM, children of every age can play and listen to the many sounds created by the xylophones, whale drums and wrenchophone. Using strikers provided, encourage your child to show you what sounds she likes best. You might ask her, Do you like to make loud noises or soft noises?
As children begin to play and listen to music, they learn to respond in creative and meaningful ways.

Want More?
In a future post, we will continue this discussion on the benefits of providing experiences that integrate all the senses and share how every experience is a sensory experience at DCM.

1 comment:

  1. I love this article. This is very relevant here in the UK too.

    I recently did some work with 6 year old children who had very little experience of such sensory play. When I gave them clay to play with, it was as though I had given food to starving children.

    One boy asked to miss play time because he was so engrossed in the feel of the clay, he was in it up to his elbows. I stayed in with him because he was getting something from the experience that he seemed to need at a deep level.

    Children need to be allowed to explore materials thoroughly before they are asked to 'produce' anything with them, and sadly some children are given very little chance to do this. They are not always given the chance to do this once they get to school because they are expected to get on with 'learning'.

    Happily, things in the Uk are beginning to change and a mush more creative curriculum id emerging for the under 6's; but nothing beats those early expereinces and you can never quite make up for them once they have been missed