Benefits of sensory play for SEN pupils

Sensory play is a term frequently used in Early Years and SEN settings, and is used to describe any activity that stimulates a child’s senses: taste, smell, touch, balance, movement, sight and hearing. Sensory activities encourage children to investigate, explore, create and play. These activities stimulate certain neurons within the brain to make connections, thus contributing to brain development and helping to support all areas of learning.

The benefits of sensory play for pupils with special educational needs, can be broken down into four main areas:

1) Social development

Social interaction between SEN pupils and their peer group is often challenging. Adding a sand or water table in an Early Years setting is a perfect example of how sensory play can encourage young children to communicate and interact with their peers in a relaxed way. Sensory play also supports language development, as children discuss what they can feel, see, hear etc.

2) Concentration and stress relief

You will have no doubt come across toys that are aimed at sensory stimulation, and distracting from other undesirable habits such as classroom fidget spinners, and chewy or squidgy toys. Giving a child with additional needs something to play with, can help to reduce stress and anxiety, allowing them to better concentrate.

3) Happiness

Children love to play, explore, learn and develop new skills by engaging their senses. Many of our favourite memories are associated with one or more of our senses. When you hear those familiar sounds, or smell those familiar smells, your brain conjures up a memory of those special times. Sensory play is exactly the same – the joy you felt as a child with leaves crunching under your feet, the feeling of sand between your toes, the smell of warm playdough in your fingers – vivid memories which many of us can remember even as adults.

4) Physical

Sensory play helps children to improve their fine and gross motor skills, their hand-eye coordination and their spatial awareness.

At Highgate we have built our curriculum offer so that it incorporates, wherever possible, all of the 4 key elements above that make learning fun.


Sensory Play: Play in the EYFS, by Sue Gascoigne, Andrews UK Ltd, 9th May 2016