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Nurturing Every Child's Growth Through Music and Sensory Play

Updated: Apr 23

Here at Making Music Academy, we’re deeply passionate about the benefits of music for children, which is probably obvious from our other blog posts and the nature of our business! 

But, what you might not know is that we’re also passionate about music as a sensory play activity for children. Music and sensory play are deeply connected and mutually beneficial, especially when combined.


Let’s talk about why and how!


Contents:


But First – What is Sensory Play and its Benefits?

Sensory Play, in a nutshell, is any activity that stimulates a child’s (or, really a person of any age!) senses:  Touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing – even body awareness and sense of balance. Sensory Play activities encourage children to explore and interact with their environment using their senses. 


For a child, play is their number one tool for learning - it’s how they learn about the world, how things work, how things react, and how their actions have an impact on their environment. As children manipulate various materials, their brains are actively processing information, forming connections, and building neural pathways. 


Sensory experiences lay the foundation for critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills. By engaging multiple senses simultaneously, children gain a deeper understanding of concepts and develop a holistic perspective of the world.


When we guide our children through intentional sensory play, we are giving them an opportunity to grow – learning new skills like how to write (using tongs strengthens the pincer grasp needed for holding a pencil!), how to describe feelings, sounds, and images (the feeling of sand vs slime, or the smell of lavender vs a rock pulled from the ocean, the difference in colours, or the sound of a drum vs a shaker).


Sensory play can be an organized activity like creating a lesson plan with an intended outcome, or it can be just getting outdoors and getting messy in nature. 


Sensory Play at Making Music Academy is singing, playing, and dancing together to interactive songs - guiding children through dance moves, playing peekaboo with scarves, or letting children explore musical instruments and noise makers during freeplay. We’re always intentional about educating through music in age-appropriate ways.


baby playing with music clapper

The Power of Music as Sensory Play

From lullabies soothing infants to lively tunes inspiring dance in toddlers, music permeates every aspect of childhood. Music plays a pivotal role in fostering holistic development of cognitive, social, emotional, and physical abilities.


Cognitively, music ignites brain activity. Research has shown that exposure to music from an early age enhances neural processing, improves memory retention, and boosts language acquisition. Through singing songs, playing instruments, and engaging in rhythmic activities, children sharpen their auditory discrimination skills and develop a keen sense of timing and coordination.


Music serves as a powerful tool for emotional expression and regulation. Whether it's a gentle melody to calm anxieties or an upbeat rhythm to lift spirits, music has the capacity to evoke and moderate emotions. In group settings, musical activities promote cooperation, turn-taking, and empathy, laying the groundwork for positive social interactions and relationships.

You can read more about the power of musical play for children in our blog post 10 Reasons Why Children LOVE Music:  The Powerful Impact on Young Minds.



Sensory Play as a Learning Tool

Is Sensory Play “just” play?


Well, “just” play is a learning tool for children no matter what you put into it - whether you’re a teacher with a plan and a big budget or just a desperate caregiver with some dry rice and a spoon trying to keep their child from climbing the walls.


Playing using their senses is how children learn about everything. No one is sitting a baby or toddler down in a classroom with a textbook and demanding they learn that way. We understand that play, in whatever form it takes, is ultimately the most important learning tool for children and is often the most pleasant way to learn, even for adults. Play allows us to learn without even realizing we’re learning!


An interesting activity, if you’re the curious type, is diving into the depths of the web to learn about the different essential skills that Sensory Play activities engage and develop.


5 Key Learning Benefits of Sensory Play:

  1. Brain development and cognitive growth.

  2. Development of key language, motor, and problem-solving skills.

  3. Social interaction when done socially.

  4. Self-regulation.

  5. Boost of creativity and curiosity through exploration. 


baby playing under colourful parachute


Learning Styles - Sensory Play Connects to EVERY Learning Style

One amazing thing about Sensory Play is that it’s suitable for EVERY learning style. Really! 

Because Sensory Play is the act of using the senses to feel and understand while playing and everyone has at least one sense at their disposal, it means that everyone with any learning style can benefit.


As caregivers, it can be very challenging to plan activities to engage your children, especially when they’re not the type to sit still or play independently! Sensory Play provides endless options to engage our children in healthy, growth-centered activities; we just need to do our homework on what style is best suited for our children.


Here are 6 learning styles that can be used in Sensory Play:

  1. Physical:  This involves tactile, olfactory/taste, hands-on, spatial awareness, and body movement. 

  2. Visual:  This involves images, patterns, and different colours.

  3. Auditory:  This involves sounds, specifically music and speech, to understand patterns, rhythms, and feelings.

  4. Logical/mathematical:  This involves use of patterns, like puzzles or problem-solving, like “rescuing” a toy from a web of rubber bands.

  5. Social:  This means doing activities together, socially bonding and collaborating to achieve a goal or sharing while playing.

  6. Solitary:  Some people learn solitarily, or some need solitary play only occasionally. It means providing play opportunities that can be done without your involvement.

Using this list helps determine what type of Sensory Play your child might benefit from, which can change day to day. Usually more than one learning style and sense is involved in each activity, so don’t overthink it!


What Does Sensory Play Look Like?

Sensory Play can ultimately look like whatever you want it to. If it’s play and it’s connecting to the senses, then it’s automatically Sensory Play! Have you gone for a walk today with your little one and let them explore their environment? Great, you just provided an opportunity for Sensory Play!


Musically, we engage in Sensory Play by choosing a theme (we often look for books to sing to our favourite tunes!), finding songs that match the theme (or changing the words so they do!), using musical instruments and sensory textiles to engage with as we sing, developing musical activities that could look like sign language or puppet play, and making sure we get a good ol’ wiggle dance mixed in.



Ms. Terrilyn surrounded by babies and caregivers singing with puppets


Sensory Play can look different for everyone. Some of us are more inclined towards music (auditory) and play by singing and dancing (physical).


Some of us prefer getting elbow deep in mess, digging into a bin of slime and dishing up mud soup (tactile).


Some of us prefer some quiet play led by a book and some matching toys to act out the storyline (visual, solitary, social).


Some of us prefer rescuing some farm animals from a tangle of tape or sorting coloured pom-poms with tongs (logical, tactile, visual, solitary).


Some of us prefer getting out in nature, letting nature and natural curiosity and exploration take the lead. Getting outdoors might be the mother of Sensory Play because it encompasses all possible sensory aspects and nourishes our minds and bodies with the vitamins and hormonal releases they need to thrive.


The best Sensory Play invites children to discover, experiment, and create. And the best part about that is that anyone can do that – no matter your personal limitations. 



babies play with light sensory play toys


Practical Applications for Musical Sensory Play

In early childhood settings, integrating Sensory Play and music opens a world of possibilities for rich learning experiences. Here are some practical ways to incorporate these elements into daily routines:


  • Sensory Sound Jars: Fill transparent jars with different materials such as rice, beans, or beads, each producing a distinct sound. Encourage children to shake the jars and listen to the varying sounds produced. For an Easter-theme sensory shaker, watch Ms. Terrilyn’s DIY video here.

  • Musical Sensory Stations: Set up stations where children can explore musical instruments alongside sensory materials. For example, pair drums with textured fabrics, xylophones with water play, and shakers with kinetic sand. Check out the sensory stations at our latest Easter pop-up with Early Achievers here!

  • Sensory Storytelling with Music: Use music to enhance storytelling experiences by selecting songs or instrumental pieces that complement the narrative. Invite children to engage in sensory activities related to the story elements, such as creating sensory art or acting out scenes.

  • Dance and Movement: Incorporate music into movement activities to encourage gross motor skills development. Provide scarves, ribbons, or streamers for children to dance and move in response to different musical rhythms and tempos.

Sensory Play is for Everyone

When we talk about Sensory Play, we are often referring to children. It certainly is a developmental activity aimed at helping children learn new skills and keep them happily busy.


Conveniently, though, Sensory Play isn’t just enjoyable for children! It’s rather satisfying as a caregiver to sit down next to them as they hide toys in their slime or find dinosaur fossils in their kinetic sand. 


Next time your child is engaged in Sensory Play, sit with them and dig your hands in too! Pay attention to how you feel – more than likely, you will experience a calming of emotions and thoughts. Your primal senses will become engaged and it lets you step away from big world problems for a little while.


So, Sensory Play is for everyone – when you play with your child, you benefit too. 


Conclusion

Sensory Play and Musical Play are very much “sisters”, encouraging learning, exploration, and growth. Through sensory experiences, children engage with the world around them, forging connections, and expanding their understanding. Likewise, music nurtures cognitive, social, and emotional well-being.


By embracing Musical and Sensory Play in daily life, educators and caregivers can cultivate environments that inspire curiosity, creativity, and joy. As children immerse themselves in sensory-rich experiences, they embark on a journey of discovery, guided by music and the endless possibilities of sensory exploration. 


Come check out how we use Musical Sensory Play at Making Music Academy by registering here!


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