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Sensory Play: The Why, How and What of Sensory Playgrounds

New research from the KOMPAN Play Institute on the benefits of Sensory Play in playgrounds

“Play consists of adaptive responses which make sensory integration happen” – A. J. Ayres, 1979

What is sensory play? Have you ever wondered about the way our senses inform our language? When we understand or realize something, we see it. When we get emotional, we feel it. People depend on sensory input and the associated response.

Sensory play is a part of all forms of play - We touch, see, hear, smell, and taste. But to researchers, the concept of sensory play includes two additional senses and/or systems. The science behind sensory integration in childhood development also includes the kinesthetic and vestibular systems, which are crucial for moving our bodies confidently through our surroundings.

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Sensory play - The why, how and what of sensory stimulating playgrounds

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8 ideas for sensory playground designs

8 Ideas for sensory playground designs

  1. The natural surroundings of outdoor playgrounds - from the choice of surfacing and planting to the actual play equipment - can provide rich sensory play opportunities.

  2. For play equipment, think of surfaces that provide varied structures, temperatures, and densities in materials.

  3. Think of play details and equipment that respond to movement, for instance, soft flaps or smooth scoops that run in grooves.

  4. Combine the tactile input with visuals or sounds - Moiré patterns, dichroic effects, or rhythm sound and tonal equipment can provide that.

  5. Responsive surfaces such as rollers, or textured surfaces such as turf or rubber flaps, stimulate the sense of touch, especially for Special Education Needs playgrounds.

  6. Pay attention to the soothing or invigorating effects of body pressure with differently textured hammocks or other moving surfaces to lie on, both in busy and quiet corners of the playground.

  7. Tactile and visual play elements that can provide movement, tactile response, and creative play are fantastic. This is where the roller log panels or hammocks come into play - children can create patterns or form messages with them.

  8. Sensory play in sensory-motor integration - stimulation of the vestibular and kinesthetic systems can be created with bouncy nets, swings, spinners, slides, seesaws, etc.