Sensory items on your kindergarten book list
Baby Steps

PLAY dough, sand, slime, modelling clay and sorting pegs will be a feature of your kindergarten booklists for the upcoming school term, and you may be wondering why they're on it, and what your child will be doing with them.

It's all sensory learning – learning by touch and learning through play – which is a critical part of early childhood development.

"Sensory learning and learning through play is an integral part of the learning process in the early childhood curriculum," educator Ann-Marie Shelly said. "Children at this stage must enjoy learning and should be engaged in meaningful, fun experiences that help them learn."

Here's what you can expect your child to use the different items for, and how they will benefit them.

Play dough

"For the toddler it's not just about moulding the dough, it's about building up strength in their tiny hands, improving their fine motor skills and keeping them calm," Shelly said. "What this does is help them in the future to grasp items like their pencils, crayons or scissors."

She said just like a stress ball, the play dough can also calm anxious children and ease tension, release excess energy, improve focus, and help them express and expel negative emotions.

"There is also no limit to the number of things your child can create with play dough," Shelly added. "It can provide hours of fun, while keeping them calm and anxiety free."

Sand

Sand also helps with the development of fine motor skills, as well as improving your child's hand-eye coordination.

"It also promotes creativity and imagination, especially if you use wet sand to mould items as you would with clay or play dough," Shelly said.

"For children with sensory perception issues, we use sand for them to explore the sense of touch, and they will manipulate objects and mould the sand. A sand box on the playground also promotes group play, allowing kids to socialise with each other, as well as be creative and work together."

Modelling clay

"Modelling clay is very therapeutic in the same way play dough is — it helps anxious children de-stress," Shelly said. "It also stimulates their imagination and creativity, allowing them to create entire worlds and mould the clay into interesting shapes."

She said it also improves hand-eye coordination, helps develop fine motor skills, and encourages learning through play.

Slime

"Manipulating slime helps with fine motor skills as well, and it keeps the children calm and focused," Shelly said. "Slime is a form of sensory play, meaning it stimulates the senses. Sensory play can be soothing for kids, and is often used in play therapy for this reason."

She said slime helps children get in touch with almost all their senses — they focus on how it feels, sounds, looks, and smells. This can lead to more self-awareness, as well as awareness about the world around them.

Sorting pegs

"With sorting pegs or stacking blocks, children can learn colours and counting, improve their fine motor skills, and enjoy experimental play," Shelly said. "By using them, your child will also work on their hand preference, strengthen hand dominance, and develop the skills that will be necessary for handwriting, colouring and fine motor tasks."

"It's important for parents to get these items as one of the challenges we see in children as educators is their lack of fine motor skills, believe it or not," Shelly said. "Fine motor skills are finger and hand skills — how your child coordinates the small muscles in their hands, wrists and fingers with their eyes. Not developing these will lead to challenges when it comes to handwriting, cutting with scissors, tying shoes, opening lunch boxes and buttoning buttons, for example."

She said that's why it's important to start with these tools, which give the children the opportunity to strengthen those tiny muscles in the fingers and hands through play.

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