Sensory Smart Kids Begins With Free Play

I’m going to say it.

Free Play is Naturally Sensory Play

Free Play is Naturally Sensory Play.

You don’t need specific, sensory activities (or tactile activities) for your child. Sensory tubs. Sensory this. Sensory that. A book on how to raise a sensory smart kid.

You are a good parent and childhood is naturally sensory. It’s difficult to raise a sensory “stupid” child.

However, if you look around on Pinterest boards you would think that 1 in 5 children had a sensory processing disorder.

At first I thought it was a really cool way to share activities for kids with sensory difficulties or with a sensory processing disorder. But then I realized something…

Not that many children can have sensory issues.

I looked it up. About 1 in 20 kids have sensory processing issues. This stat includes from the very minor to the extreme.

Want my opinion? Sensory processing disorders are the new buzz in parenting. Remember ten years ago how freaked out people were about raising emotionally intelligent kids? Suddenly all these kids were emotionally stupid. What were going to do???

But they’re kids. They are learning. They are developing. They are growing. Exploring. Experimenting. Every day is different.

And as parents? Well, we’re naturally ready and primed to freak out and get sucked in by marketing–yes marketing–ploys aimed at making us believe we are not good parents and that there is something we need to do or buy to help us raise better, smarter kids.

What else is happening? We’re restricting our kids and their play and their play time and filling that time with “healthy” structured activities that someone has sold to us as necessary. Sure, some structured activities are good, but what about free play time? Just because it is free and natural doesn’t mean it isn’t healthy and necessary. (We don’t question the need for sleep, do we?)

Play is the natural way for kids to develop the skills they need for life. As parents we need to get out of the way and let them play. We need to worry less about the idea that they need special help to become CEO of the world. If we want healthy, happy, future CEOs we need to let them play and be kids. Now. That’s how they are going to figure themselves out, solve their own problems, and become the people we want them to be. As well as develop sensory processing skills.

But the real question (excluding kids with genuine sensory wiring issues that makes it difficult for them to process sensory input) is how do you raise a sensory stupid child?

No. Really. I’m serious about this.

There’s a book called Raising a Sensory Smart Child. A title like that begs us to consider the opposite. If this is a solution, what is the problem? Is there a true, genuine problem?

As parents and as a society, have we lost that much faith in our children and in nature and in childhood and in the value of free play and have become so disconnected that we believe we need to interfere with sensory development in the average child? Because that’s what I see going on.

Picture a typical day in a child’s life.

If you let your kids play freely they are naturally going to experience sensory delights.

Take a moment to think about it. A typical day in a child’s world. What does it look like? Feel like? Sound like? Smell like? Taste like?

This is a sensory day in the life of my 1 1/2 year old son from a few weeks ago. He ate his breakfast with his hands. Yogurt (smooth, sweet, and gooey), toast (rough, but smoother on the inside). He pet the cat (furry and soft). He walked across the grass in his bare feet (pokey in places, soft and tickely in others). His sister tickled him under the chin. He wore a bike helmet and crawled across rocks which shifted and clanked under him. He played with the floppy, crinkly dustcover on my book. He curled up under his knit blanket for a nap and stuck his fingers through the knitting. He rode in the bumpy bike trailer and stole my metal and glass phone. He went out in the hot, bright sun. He felt the wind. Heard birds and dogs (and barked back). He turned on the stereo. He felt the heat from the hot oven when his sister opened the door. He held a freezing Creamsicle and felt in melt in his hands. He felt the back and forth rhythm of a swing.

If anything, he was overloaded with sensory delights.

How did he manage all this? By having a genuine childhood. A typical toddler day in the life.

If we let our kids play in nature and around the house and experience and engage and interact with life and their environment like they were born to do, they will learn much more about their senses and gain way more sensory input to gain those vital connections in their brains than if you give them a sensory tub filled with sand and a paintbrush and tell them to go at it. Sure, doing this will make you feel like you are actively parenting and developing your child. That you are doing something. But is it really giving your child a full sensory experience more than if you simply let them engage in free play and took them outdoors?

If we want to actively develop our kids’ sensory skills we need to let them play freely. Free play IS the answer. Not a paint brush and a box of sand in a padded room.

Do I have it wrong? Weigh in in the comment section. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


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