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The Importance of Play

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We know the importance of play for kids, right? But why is play important, and how does play relate to sensory processing?

What is play?

“Play… is a way for your child to familiarize themselves with the world while exploring and testing their own limits.”1

We discover and explore our world through play. It is how we learn, grow and develop skills. Play also helps us develop our ability to process sensory input. 

Play starts at a very young age, as a baby starts to explore an item by putting it in their mouth, touching it etc. they are playing and learning about their world. As kids get older we see them start imaginary play, playing with others, and playing in more organized manners (such as sports). 

Play is how we learn. 

Play and sensory

Here at Sensory Sid we are all about sensory processing, so how are play and sensory processing related?

To understand how play and sensory processing are connected we need to know about sensory processing. If you want a deeper dive into sensory processing and sensory processing disorder (SPD) check out all the info on the website

“Successful sensory processing occurs when the input that is received is interpreted accurately and results in the proper response, at the appropriate time.”

We are constantly taking in and processing sensory input during our day. We receive an input, and the information goes to our brain to interpret, then sends information back to our body on how to respond. 

If someone has difficulties processing the input they may have sensory processing disorder. 

When we are young our sensory systems are developing, and play is a part of this play. 

How play develops our senses

If you’re not familiar with our sensory systems let’s review them real quick. 

  • Tactile- Touch
  • Vestibular- Movement
  • Proprioception- Body awareness
  • Auditory- Sound
  • Visual- Sight
  • Olfactory- Smell
  • Oral- Taste

When we play, we often engage several of these sensory systems simultaneously. 

As a baby plays with a rattle. They are getting tactile input from holding and touching the rattle. Auditory input from the sound it makes. Proprioceptive input from working to shake/move the rattle back and forth. Visual input watching the rattle. Possibly oral input if they bring it to the lips to mouth.  

With this simple act of playing with a rattle, they are experiencing a variety of different sensory inputs. 

A child on a swing. They are receiving vestibular input from the swinging motion. Visual input watching their environment as they move back and forth. Proprioceptive input as they pump their legs to swing higher and higher, and possibly more proprioceptive input if they jump off and land on the ground. 

These are just two examples of how different activities can simulate our sensory systems. The more our sensory systems are engaged and processing input the more equipped they are to process input successfully. As kids grow, develop, and meet their developmental milestones, this is a prime time to receive and learn how to interpret different sensory inputs. 

Let them play

Play is important. Let them swing, climb, roll, dig, spin, explore, imagine, create, build, and make a mess. It’s all part of learning and growing. It’s all part of our sensory development. 

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

Fred Rogers
(Mr. Rogers)

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