Sensory Play and Speech Development In Early Childhood

Sensory Play and Speech Development In Early Childhood

Sensory play has so many benefits in early childhood! One of the most overlooked, in my opinion, is speech and language development. Whether learning to use a single word or learning to build sentences and vocabulary, sensory play is a beneficial tool for speech.

The Science behind Speech and Sensory Play: 

Sensory exploration stimulates all senses at the same time. 

Touch (Tactile)

Hearing (Audition)

Seeing (Visual)

Tasting (Gustatory)

Smelling (Olfactory)

Equilibrium\Balance (Vestibular)

Force\Self Movement (Proprioception)

And all these senses together boost many areas of development in young children. Engaging the senses ignites little fireworks (or synapses) in the brain’s pathways, causing connections and physical growth in the brain. These connections help children to complete more complex tasks, skills, and functions. Using a variety of senses at once allows children to develop language, cognitive, motor, social and imaginative skills.

It’s interesting to note that Sensory exploration significantly impacts language and speaking domains of child development. 

Note: Speech and language development is not only important for toddlers and children with speech delays.  Spoken language is a crucial foundation that requires learning and practice up to age 6.  Children need fluent speech and should have a broad understanding of language before ever attempting to learn the alphabet, write, or read.


What's at the Core of Early Speech Development?

Receptive Language Skills

Receptive language is at the core of language development. Receptive language is:

The ability of a child to understand the spoken language. It involves how well a child can identify everything in and happening in the world around him, his ability to follow commands, and understand questions.

Sensory activities can all be excellent opportunities to develop speech while simply playing and talking to your Little.


Areas of speech we can work on at home:

  • Vocabulary and Descriptive Words
Use and model descriptive words to describe how things feel, look, smell, sound, and taste. As you use the sentences and words, emphasize unfamiliar words and phrases. Modeling examples helps build comprehension and a growing vocabulary. Try not to demand a response but wait for your child to repeat and use words when ready. 
  • Re-casting
Simply - if your child says, “play dough,” you can respond with, “Yes, the play dough is squishy/soft/blue.” You can target speech sounds and the expansion of speech as you encourage your child to use longer phrases and more detailed phrases. 
  • Action Words 
Use action words like mix, pour, stir, squeeze, roll, fill, move, slide, etc. Use complete sentences and ask questions that use words in context. Model the action while you are speaking. 
  • Focus Words 
Focusing on one main word is critical and beneficial for some children struggling with speech development. “Help,” “More,” and “Done” are a few words that are easily encouraged during sensory play. Using sensory play provides a fun experience for speech development and therapy. 
  • Storytelling 
Learning to tell a story is crucial to early brain development. Storytelling helps build vocabulary, increase creative thinking, helps to link concepts, and learn to sequence. Sensory play and small worlds are wonderful places for storytelling. You can begin by reading a book and acting or playing out the story in sensory play. As your child’s speech develops, encourage them to add to stories with their imagination. You can also use storytelling to build comprehension skills by asking your child to retell the story in a book you have read. 
  • Inference and Problem Solving 
Sensory play also targets higher-level language skills such as inferencing and problem solving with questions such as “What do we need for a sandcastle? How do you think this was made?” These types of questions not only prompt response but also engage the brain's creative thinking and problem-solving parts.
  • Memory Enhancement 
Studies show that regular sensory activities help to increase memory function. The language used while engaged in sensory play has a much higher likelihood of being remembered and stored in the brain. 



    I hope you found some of these tips helpful!  I was probably more wordy than necessary, but I enjoy the "why's."  It's really not difficult to encourage language development - Play, Have Fun, and Talk to your Little.

    After implementing regular sensory play into my preschool classroom, I saw improved speech in all children.

    And let’s be honest, anything that makes learning fun is a win! 


    Ms. Becky

    Don't Forget to Play Today, Chickadee!




    1 comment

    Enjoyed reading this, I work as an English as an additional language teacher in an international school and have been using sensory activities as provocations for developing English language. I am amazed at how all ages, all the way up to 12 year olds just gravitate towards the sensory activities and are so stimulated by them. Thank you.


    Leave a comment