Look, Listen and Feel:
Multi-Sensory Toys Help the Mind Grow Strong
- Learn All About What Makes Multi-Sensory Toys Special
- Find Out the Learning Benefits for Kids of All Levels of Ability
- Choose Toys That Stimulate the Eyes, Ears and Fingers
- Browse Toy Suggestions for Children With Audio Sensitivity
- Get Ideas on How to Maximize Learning During Playtime
agree that children learn and develop their minds during their
early years, especially when they are encouraged to play with toys
that attract their senses of sight, sound and touch. According
to Pam Schiller, Ph.D.∗, special skills such as problem-solving, understanding cause and effect relationships, motor development and more occur during playtime: "Offer toys and equipment that are multi-sensory," writes Schiller. "The more senses involved in a learning situation, the more likely the child is to process the information."
What does that mean? Well, for starters, it means that playing with toys offers a learning experience even if your child doesn't realize it. It also means that choosing multi-sensory toys – the kind of games and activities that dazzle the ears, eyes and fingertips – help build up your child's brain when he or she is very young and even as he grows up.
What can playtime with multi-sensory toys teach children of all ability levels?
- awareness of body movement and surroundings
- creative self-expression through making noises, flashing lights, etc.
- ability to use more than one sense at a time
- independence through self-directed play (many toys require little to no adult supervision when in use)
- peer interaction (many toys allow for more than one player at a time)
- stronger fine and gross motor skills
- understanding of cause and effect
What toys are multi-sensory toys?
One of the most easily recognized types of multi-sensory toys is the musical toy because it's primarily designed to stimulate the ears, while also providing touchy-feely fun. That makes it a good time for children with or without hearing or visual impairments. Musical toys offer children the chance to listen to and distinguish between different types of sounds, and often the opportunity to make their own sounds too. (That's the cause and effect awareness skill: children learn that if they press this or that button, they'll make this or that playful sound happen.)
Music Puzzles are one way to deliver maximum audio, visual and tactile stimulation in a single activity. When the pieces are placed into their slots properly, these puzzles reward players with a happy sound. The Alphabet Sound Puzzle combines this cause and effect experience with the added benefit of learning the ABCs. The Lights & Sounds Puzzle not only delivers the fun visual experience of looking at and touching recognizable neighborhood vehicles (ambulance, police car and fire truck), but it also delivers the sound of matching sirens and flashing lights.
Sparkle Ocean Drum, Sound Shape hand drums, Mini-Cabasa, Giggle Balls and BoomWhacker Tubes are musically and visually stimulating with the added bonus of developing the striking motion skill. Like all musical toys, they require an action to create sound; but it is a precise striking motion that creates the desired bang, rattle, giggle or thump. Early development of the striking motion can have the long-term benefit of being able to master sports such as baseball, tennis and more.
To add more physical movement into the musical mix, try SoundSteps, which reinforce balance skills each time your child steps onto a colorful step and is rewarded with a friendly sound. For young children ages 2 and up, try Musical Mats, which combine color, sound, and letter learning with musical and visual (flashing lights) fun. Giant Piano Stepper plays music as eight different instruments and allows users to record and playback their own melodies or select from one of several pre-recorded tunes. It's also durable enough to be rolled over by children using wheelchairs.
Twirly Whirly is another cause and effect toy with dazzling audio/visual stimulation. As your child gives it a whirl, turn or shake, he'll create a unique, interactive combination of sights and sounds with brightly colored beads cascading through its balconies and spinners. Rainstick also allows him to see inside and learn how sounds are made, as pretty beads swirl to create a gentle rainfall sound. While some music toys are loud and even silly, Rainstick and Twirly Whirly are soothing to listen to when your desire is to soften your child's mood or environment.
Shopping for an audio sensitive child?
Not every kid can enjoy a musical toy. For some, even the most gentle noises are too much to handle. As an alternative, try engaging the senses of sight and touch with building toys and puzzles, which encourage creative self-expression, the use of imagination, and the development of fine motor skills.
Automoblox start out as a set of colorful wheels, roofs and riders; but combine to become a Sports Car, Pick Up Truck, 8-Passenger Mini-Van or – because each piece works in any set – a hybrid of the three. Bumpity Blocks are weighted blocks featuring unique interlocking shapes, which build your child's motor control and tactile perception skills. Magneatos™, available in four unique sets that can combine to work together, incorporate tactile, imagination and fine motor stimulation while being toddler safe.
For children with dexterity challenges, Incrediblocks (set of 50) are easy-to-handle, giant interlocking soft blocks that encourage color recognition and distinction. They're lightweight, durable, washable and non-toxic making them fun for the fingers and the eyes. For additional soft fun on the larger scale, try Shape ‘n Color Mat and Matching Cubes, a hands-on way for children to discover shapes and colors with blocks and a mat that can be used for safe building fun too. It's like a giant interactive puzzle!
And speaking of puzzles: there are many Tactile Puzzles available without sound, which still encourage your child's development of visual and tactile senses. Fuzzy Farm Puzzle uses large, easy-to-hold shapes with soft textured surfaces and depicts a friendly farm scene. Locks & Latches Puzzle is an interactive puzzle panel with six different locks on doors that open to reveal a hidden visual delight behind each. Basic Skills Board contains a buckle, lacing activity, zipper, button and snap on the body of a friendly bear, which enables children to practice their dressing skills while having fun.
The textures of water, sand and snow provide wonderful sensory stimulations for little hands. Outside or in, the Sand and Water Table offers the tabletop experience of playing with sand or water for children in groups of up to four. The Sensory Station is a vibrantly colored table that encourages creativity with sand or water play. It includes a removable storage bin that fits into the work surface's center, minimizing the risk of mess. But for truly mess-free sand play, try No Mess Sandbox, which allows kids to place their arms into tubes and reach into an enclosed sandy landscape. It's all the fun of a traditional sandbox without the bugs and dirt.
Even if it's warm outside, your child can experience snow inside with Insta-Snow®. It's easy to mix and amazing to watch and feel as it gets cold right before your eyes. Mix a scoop of the non-toxic sodium polyacrylate powder with water to make fluffy snow that will not melt and lasts for weeks. Over time, the water will evaporate and the snow will turn back into powder, ready to be used again under close adult supervision.
What about the other two senses?
As your mother always told you, it's not a good idea to play with your food. However, it is possible to smell some of your toys, and there are some great aromatic toys for kids of all ability levels on the market. The Hot Hugs stuffed animals offer a heated, calming snuggle experience with the relaxing aroma of lavender. For kids able to write with pencils, make the switch to Smencils® and sharpen their sense of smell with 10 juicy scents. Olfactory Sensations is a guessing game with 12 containers of different scents designed to awaken and challenge the nose. Up the sensory ante with P.U! – The Guessing Game of Smells™, which requires players to scratch and sniff while moving their game pieces along a colorful board. Join Stinky the skunk in a race through Odorville and have a smelly good time! But as we mentioned before: don't eat these aromatic toys!
Schiller champions the use of aromas to create a sensory atmosphere for child play, but warns that too much sensory stimulation can make learning difficult: "Provide stimulation but don't over stimulate," she writes. "Too much stimulation, i.e. things hanging from the ceiling, walls covered from ceiling to floor and so forth, make it difficult for children to focus."
And for maximum learning during playtime, you want your child to focus on the toy in hand or at foot. That's why multi-sensory toys are a great way to help your child – whatever his or her ability level – to send and receive sensory signals, use imagination, participate in cooperative play and express himself through the sights and sound of these toys.
∗ Pam Schiller, Ph.D. is the author of "Brain Research and Its Implications for Early Childhood Programs – Applying Research to Our Work," from where her quotes are derived. (July/August 2001 – www.ChildCareExchange.com)