Observing the way in which toddlers play with building blocks have shown a lot about how children learn about the world around them from an early age. A study conducted by Michigan State University has looked into the effects of sensory learning and how this develops cognitive skills.
From very early on, children form an awareness of objects using all five senses. Using the example of a young child playing with blocks we can see that they use their eyes and hands to experience the shape, weight and feel of each block. Initially, they will smell and taste the blocks, soon realising that they all taste and smell the same. By going through these processes they form a complete understanding of what a playing block is. This may seem like a simple and self-explanatory process, but it says a lot about how we begin to form cognitive understanding.
Cognitive skills are used for problem solving and creative thinking. A child that has well developed cognitive skills will be better equipped to solve mathematical and scientific problems. In later life, cognitive skills will help them be more inventive and come up with innovative ideas which may well lead to major new discoveries in the future.
Sensory play is a vital part of early childhood development. It forms the foundation for all further learning including reading, mathematics and science. By experiencing sensory development early on, a child will be able to draw on these skills later in life to aid with problem-solving and facing new challenges.
The playground offers children one of the best opportunities for sensory play. Sensory gardens have become a very popular part of the modern playground. What may seem like a simple play activity, for example playing with water and sand, is actually an important learning experience.
When a child plays with water and sand, all their senses are stimulated and they are inadvertently learning valuable scientific truths that will make later learning much easier. Through touch and feel, they learn the difference between liquid and solid. Through sight, they experience mass – observing that sand sinks in water. The sound of water is different to that of sand, as is its taste and sensation in the mouth. A child will soon learn that sand is not that good to eat and that it causes an unpleasant sensation in the mouth.
All these things seem obvious to us as adults, but the fact is that we had to learn this. The earlier in life we get to do so, the better our chances are of developing good cognitive skills. Providing children with a safe environment to explore their sensory perception in their early development will provide them with the skills needed to succeed in later life.
It is important to allow young children the freedom to discover and learn through play. It must, however, be pointed out that the environment in which they explore their senses should be safe and controlled to a reasonable degree. Learning that sharp objects are dangerous through sensory perception is certainly not the best way for a child to do this.
Play equipment that is created to aid a child’s sensory development is specifically designed to present them with challenges that do not put them at unnecessary risk.