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Experiential education & sensory play

  Sensory play is the kind of play during which children of all abilities and ages use materials that appeal to all their senses. With their natural curiosity and drive, they explore freely and experiment in a safe environment, in their own way and in their own time, and guided by themselves alone.


This type of play is certainly not something new. Adults did not discover it,

it is the natural way of playing for children, who always wanted and sought to play with all their senses, with dirt, mud, clay, and so many other materials of nature that were freely around them. Precisely because all the senses are used, the child's brain receives sensory stimuli that are necessary for its complete development. 


As, for example, the child dips his/her hand in their fruit cream, explores paints with his/her hands or splashes in every water bucket or puddle s/he finds on their way, the sensory receptors of the skin, in combination with the other senses, such as the chromatic sense, compose a complete picture, which allows the brain to gradually create a more complete sense of self and the world around it. New textures, colours, smells and plenty of mess make up a puzzle that promotes holistic brain development.

In Cyprus and Greece, messy play tends to be aimed at very young ages, from 12 months and up. It is a way to help young children express themselves creatively, using all their senses and thus experiencing everything they know. Of course, messy/ sensory play is suitable for all ages and is one of the most interesting, pedagogical techniques, as it gains the interest of young and old, immediately!


Personally, as an experiential education teacher, I use to encourage children to discover the world, through simple materials, that we use in our everyday life. The awakening of the senses helps each child to discover the world around them, simultaneously conquering many sensory benefits and developing new skills, through play.  From research and my own experience, infants and toddlers get to know the world by playing and actively participating. No more sterile memorization and passive listening and learning. Every child must be experientially involved throughout the learning process.

The multiple benefits of a lesson using messy/sensory play from my experience, are as follows:

1. It promotes physical development.

2. Develops hand-eye coordination.

3. Builds motor skills.

4. Develops body control, posture, balance and coordination.

5. Introduces colours, shapes and textures and allows exploration in two and three dimensions.

6. It offers opportunities for measurement and classification.

7. Encourages the understanding of the cause-and-effect connection.

 8. Promotes independence through decision-making.

 9. Promotes curiosity and creativity.

10. Allows for risk-taking and experimentation.

11. Encourages a positive attitude towards new experiences.

12. Promotes imagination and favours games of representation and storytelling.


 Useful ideas for a sensory/messy experience


§  As always, it is best to supervise children.

§  Play together to increase opportunities for communication and play.

§  The materials you will use should not be dangerous for children.

§  All hazards removed – only risk opportunities remain.

§  Allow plenty of space for play and exploration.

§  Where possible, include edible materials.

§  The furniture in the space should be minimal and preferably soft.

§  A good, non-hazardous floor is essential (for instance, non-slippery.

§  Don't forget, however, that it should also be easy to clean. A carpet may not therefore be the right choice!


 Sensory play ideas for infants


Almost everything in the world of infants is new. Everything they see is for them, the beginning of a new adventure. Using simple, everyday materials is a great option. Textures, colours, aromas, edible materials and anything that can attract the attention of a child, always with respect and attention to the safety of children and the correct choice of materials.


Savvina works with our littluns in our Opal classroom and shares with us in her article, her own experiences of working with children. The little gems in her classroom are aged 2+ years old and enjoy exploring the natural world around them, gaining sensorial impressions naturally. Through the creative approaches of their guides, the children thereby refine their senses, and make sense of the impressions received.


Savvina is an “experiential education teacher, music tutor, proud member as an assistant teacher in Little Gems Montessori nursery.”


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