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In the Classroom: Caterpillars

What is it about Sensory Play?

by Laura Graham

One of the most engaging activities for the Caterpillar children is playing with sensory materials.  Whether it is water, sand, soil, or play dough, we see the materials inspire joyful and focused exploration that the children return to again and again.

Sensory play offers children a chance to discover the properties of the world around them.  One day the children pour water from a cup and watch it flow, splash, drip, and puddle.  Another day they pour dry beans and see them fall, skitter, and collide, or the children drop small play dough balls and watch them roll or flatten.  Through each experience, the children are learning that different materials move and behave differently and are developing the ability to predict and control that movement.

Play with sensory materials also develops the children’s small motor control as they pinch, grasp, squeeze and grip the materials and tools.  Through repeated play experiences they begin to understand concepts such as empty and full; more and less; none, one, some, and all.

Recently,one of our Caterpillars noticed play dough on the table and rushed to the kitchen play area to fetch a cooking pot.  He filled the pot with play dough and brought it back to the kitchen area, placing it in the pretend oven.  This young child was acting out a narrative through play; a narrative that most likely imitated scenes he had observed at home.  Another child was delighted as he broke off small pieces of play dough and held them up to the mouth of a toy zebra.  As our toddlers begin to engage in pretend play inspired by the sensory materials, they are developing the ability to think abstractly and are beginning to link pretend elements into a narrative sequence, a foundational skill for language development and storytelling.

As children grow, they bring their own creativity to sensory play, so that it continues to offer rich and engaging learning opportunities throughout the early childhood years.