5 Reasons to Encourage Sensory Play Over Screen Time
People might live in the technological age, but human hardware hasn’t changed. For your child to develop physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, they need sensory play to engage with the world around them. The young serve as a valuable reminder to us all to step away from our phones and iPads and embrace real life, not a virtual one.
Children have managed just fine without screens since the dawn of humankind and continue to do so in some cultures today. Depriving this population of their need for sensory play stunts their growth, prompting mom and dad to step away from the computer and go outside.
Why is limiting the hours your child spends on a tablet crucial to their development? Here are five reasons you should encourage sensory play over screen time.
1. It Encourages Oral Language and Communication Skills
You communicate as much by how you say something — your tone of voice, attitude and inflection — as you do by the words you choose. Interacting on a screen helps children build written communication skills but can leave them woefully behind in speaking with others. This inability will plague them through life, as research shows that relationships play a far more vital role in getting ahead than talent. Your kids need to know how to speak with other people.
How do children develop this skill? They do so in large part by engaging in sensory play with their peers. In such relationships, there’s no power differential — kids don’t have to defer to authority as they do when speaking with adults. Nature and science guide them.
How? Sensory play encourages new neural connections in the brain. This helps your child see the world differently, including through others’ eyes. They also develop mindfulness, learning how they should express things to others and assert their needs while remaining respectful of other people’s desires.
2. It Keeps Kids More Physically Active
The obesity epidemic continues among America’s children. Childhood obesity has tripled in the past several decades, and one in three qualifies as overweight or obese today. Part of the problem is too much sedentary time spent on screens.
Sensory play gets young bodies off couches and moving. Even children who don’t enjoy competitive sports get into activities like kiddie yoga and dance. What child hasn’t spontaneously jumped on a bed? While you might want to take your kids to the park for a safer environment for rough and tumble play, most youngsters love to move, given the opportunity.
3. It Engages Children With the Wider World Around Them
Some psychologists consider children “blank slates,” but this innocence extends beyond not knowing how to read or write. It encompasses everything — from how they relate emotionally to other living things to looking at a pile of sticks and realizing they could build a miniature log cabin.
Everything is new to a child, not only their minds. They need to use their bodies, senses and emotions, developing and honing those, too. They do so by engaging with the wider world around them, getting dirty, making mud pies, climbing trees and occasionally scraping knees.
4. It Encourages Creativity and Problem-Solving
Even the best educational tablet game can only present so many possible answers to multiple-choice questions. However, life isn’t as neatly defined as an academic test. There are often dozens of ways to get to the “right” answer — and there may be five or six correct solutions to boot.
Sensory play encourages creativity and problem-solving. For example, a child playing with homemade play-dough has to figure out for themselves how to change the consistency if it won’t mold into the shapes they want. Adding a little extra water might not be a huge thing for an adult, but it represents a significant problem-solving step among tiny tots.
5. It Builds Resilience and Emotional Regulation
Resilience is your ability to bounce back from difficult situations. Emotional regulation refers to being able to recognize and effect change in how you feel by choosing behaviors that improve your outlook. Both skills are important to making it in a highly competitive world where your kids will eventually meet with challenges and uncomfortable situations.
You can’t learn to regulate emotions that you haven’t first experienced. Sensory play allows children to encounter these feelings in a safe arena first, so they can develop the skills to manage them when the stakes are higher. For example, losing a little league game teaches kids how to handle disappointment while remaining a good sport.
How do you develop resiliency? It’s very similar — you have to first undergo adversity. Sensory play allows children to encounter this in a safe, natural way.
For example, a child who is building a sandcastle might try several different techniques until they create a recognizable structure, but there are no harsh penalties for all the “buildings” that collapse while they hone the process. Your child’s only hurdle to overcome is their frustration — but that’s a crucial lesson to learn.
Encourage Sensory Play Over Screen Time
Today’s children spend too much time on screens, affecting their physical, mental and emotional health and development. Why should parents and schools encourage more sensory play?
The five above reasons justify encouraging sensory play over screen time. Doing so fosters healthy development and emotionally resilient children.
About the Author
Ava Roman (she/her) is the Managing Editor of Revivalist, a women’s lifestyle magazine that empowers women to live their most authentic life. When Ava is not writing you’ll find her in a yoga class, advocating for her children or whipping up something delicious in the kitchen!