With educational demands constantly increasing, and more of their free time being consumed by technology-based entertainment, kids (and their parents) spend more of their time indoors and inactive than ever. Children are increasingly suffering from stress, anxiety and, mental exhaustion. This may be a result of their very one-sided sensory environment. Computers, books, teachers, game consoles, and most of the other things and activities kids spend their time on use mainly their hearing and visual senses, leaving these constantly engaged overstimulated while others are left seriously understimulated.
While sensory play is primarily used to soothe children with autism, it’s important to stimulate all the senses for any child to maintain their health and wellbeing. Fortunately, giving those key senses the stimulation they need is often as simple as making some time for your backyard swing set.
Kids who fidget, rock back and forth, or move around when they’re trying to focus might be trying to deal with under-stimulation of their vestibular sense. This sense deals with balance and motion. Swinging on a swing, balancing on a beam, playing on a see-saw, or simply jumping with a jump rope are great ways to stimulate it, and make it much easier to sit still and focus on other tasks afterward.
Indoor environments are often don’t offer much in terms of olfactory experiences. We go out of our way to limit smells, and this provides a very boring, under-stimulating environment for our noses. Getting outside regularly is a great way to deal with this. Playgrounds offer a wide variety of natural smells to engage that neglected olfactory sense. Grass, wood, leaves, and everything else in our everyday outdoor environment offer unique experiences and discoveries that can help to break kids out of the monotony of their sanitized indoor lives.
At school and at play, kids mostly just touch relatively hard, smooth surfaces, whether they’re table tops, tablets, computers, phones, pens, or books. Getting outside opens up an entire other world of textures. Grass, soft dirt, raw wood, cold metal, crunchy leaves, grainy sand, and rough bark give kids other sensations to experience, and helps to break up the textural monotony of their day.
Proprioception deals with internal coordination and our ability to sense where our own bodies are in relation to ourselves. Throwing and catching balls, tumbling, or any other tasks that require physical agility do a wonderful job of stimulating our proprioceptive sense. Unlike the other senses, we need to focus to use this sense very effectively. This physical intelligence requires an enormous amount of concentration, and is an excellent way to switch gears and mentally break out of the sensory rut that kids spend most of their time in.