From the moment of birth, your toddler has been exploring their environment through of all their senses. They’ve touched foreign objects, smelled new scents, learned to recognize your face, have grown to love your voice and tasted so many new flavors (Woah, who knew milk was so awesome?). These key experiences increased their understanding and sense of curiosity and also helped develop their physical, mental and emotional capabilities.
As they enter pre-nursery, their sensory exploration will help them learn more and gain a whole new set of skills. Known as sensory play, activities that incorporate and exercise the senses can enhance your tot’s brain function, fine and gross motor skills and communication, and even ease their emotions.
At the British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park (BISC-LP)—a unique, private international school for students ages 15 months to 11 years old—sensory exploration and play-based learning is a core component of the pre-nursery program. BISCP-LP motivates students to achieve success through an internationally-accredited curriculum delivered by globally trained teachers.
Separate from a traditional daycare or pre-school, BISC-LP’s toddler program helps to build a strong academic foundation for future grade levels. With the International Primary Curriculum, young learners are guided by overarching themes that integrate subject areas, such as foreign languages, STEAM subjects, athletics and performing arts. Students are also given access to one-of-a-kind experiences through collaborations with Juilliard, MIT and UNICEF, as they’re part of a global network of schools.
In a safe and nurturing environment, toddlers are further supported in their first school setting through lessons that engage their senses and are centered on play to help foster emotional and social development. “These foundational skills acquired in our early years’ program support each child with their learning and independence, enabling them to excel to their full potential as they progress in our ongoing academic program,” explains Emma Taylor, BISC-LP Pre-Nursery Director.
For BISC-LP, however, scent, smell, touch, taste and sight aren’t the only senses that children should explore their environment with. The toddler program also highlights the vestibular sense (the movement and balance sense that provides information about where our head and body are in space) and the proprioception sense (the body awareness sense that tells us where our body parts are relative to each other).
The reason for the focus on seven versus five? The unique combination “enables children to fully immerse with the characteristics of effective learning,” according to Taylor. To learn more about how sensory play can help your child as they take on school, we’ve listed out the top five benefits.
1. Promotes communication and language development
As toddlers play and engage with other children in class, they’re able to use all of their senses. They see their classmates running around, they hear nursery rhymes being played, they feel the different textures of toys, they’re able to share and taste snacks, and they may even smell certain objects depending on what it is (like that distinct Play-Doh scent from our childhood). By using multiple senses simultaneously, tots can practice describing what they’re doing and better explain their emotions towards a task.
2. Supports cognitive growth
From birth to age three, babies form over 1 million neural connections in their brain every second—and sensory play helps to bridge these pathways more. As they tackle new challenges through hands-on activities that spark their curiosity, problem solving, exploration and creativity, your little sponge is constantly absorbing new memories. Taylor adds that by incorporating these multi- sensory, first-hand experiences, children can connect and inquire about the world.
3. Boosts gross motor skills
With each day that passes, your little one can begin to do more and more with their body. This happens thanks to their growing gross motor skills (movements related to a child’s growing arms, legs, trunks and feet). Through sensory play at school, youngsters can increase their strength and coordination of these large muscle groups even more. Whether they’re learning to throw a ball, mastering the art of crawling or jumping and running all throughout the schoolyard, you’ll have a tiny explorer always on the go.
4. Encourages fine motor skills
Sensory play also has a key role in the development of a kiddos’ fine motor skills, which are the coordination and movement of the small muscle groups in the body (eyes, hands, fingers and wrists. By practicing holding a crayon, stacking up blocks and squeezing a handful of gooey slime, preschoolers can increase their hand-eye coordination and ability to grasp, as well as enhance their proprioception sense. “[Children can learn] about how much force to use, allowing us them to do something like crack an egg while not crushing the egg in their hands,” explains Taylor.
5. Helps calm children when overwhelmed
For toddlers, sensory overload and mixed emotions can result in the form of tantrums, outbursts, or sullen rage. A sensory activity, like squishing sand between their fingers, listening to music, and doing stretching exercises or breathing techniques, can help to calm these mood swings and ease feelings of anger, frustration and sadness. “Toddlers thrive when they are loved and well cared for, so building relationships is key to each child feeling safe, secure, and ready to learn,” says Taylor. “We support children when they’re having big feelings in a nurturing way, by providing cuddles and singing songs.”
At the British International School of Chicago, Lincoln Park, your tot will begin to explore their surroundings through sensory play, which is foundational to their older years. Contact the school today to begin your child’s educational journey in the pre-nursery program!