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Sensory Play and the EYFS

I am very excited to have Sue Gascoyne as my guest blogger. I whole heartedly promote sensory play and multi-sensory learning within early years and education as I believe sensory play impacts positively on children’s learning and development.


Sue Gascoyne is an educational consultant, early years researcher, trainer and author. She runs workshops and speaks nationally and internationally, drawing upon the research which she has instigated to further understanding of the benefits of sensory-rich object play. This is also reflected in her award winning training – Sue was named Nursery World’s ‘Trainer of the Year’ in 2009 for her contribution to the early years sector. Her accomplished books, Sensory Play, 2011 (Practical Pre-School) and Treasure Baskets and Beyond – Realising the benefits of sensory rich play, 2012 (Open University Press) successfully convey both the theory and practical application of sensory play. Sue is the founder of Play to Z Ltd, specialist providers of award-winning sensory play resources, and maintains an active role as Creative Director.

Sue writes ” For babies the senses are literally the gateway to all learning with everything they encounter stemming from the senses, be it a comforting cuddle, soothing lullaby, reassuring smell, captivating sight or a journey of discovery for the taste buds. In fact, early sensory experiences are closely linked to memories as well as being great fun and hugely enriching. Every sensory-rich experience results in information about what we see, touch, taste, smell, and hear being relayed to different parts of the brain. The more times these connections are used the better they function which is why it is so important to offer babies and young children lots of sensory-rich experiences. But the same is equally true of older children. In our eagerness to prepare children for school, it’s easy to forget that activities like making patterns in dry or wet sand, paint or mud; exploring natural treasures or gloop; or simply experiencing the outdoor environment close-up, are all important stepping stones. The challenge for adults is recognising their value and that ‘in the hands of a child, the simplest of objects can be transformed into whatever they want it to be’ (Gascoyne, S, 2012, Treasure Baskets and Beyond – Realizing the Potential of Sensory Rich Play). So with the new EYFS now being implemented, how can sensory-rich play contribute to the three prime areas?

Personal, Social and Emotional Development

Sand, mud, water and other sensory-rich natural treasures are perfect for fostering personal, social and emotional development. Watch a child deeply engrossed in play and we gain an insight into their personality, interest and schemas (repeated patterns of behaviour). As well as supporting emotional well-being, the deeply absorbing qualities of sensory-rich play provide a safe arena for problems to be explored, quiet reflection and testing of ideas.



 Communication and Language

When learning is relevant and real, such as when children explore open-ended objects, this not only gives meaning to words like soft and hard, rough and smooth but provides the interest and incentive for continued exploration. A range of language responses may be apparent with some children babbling or talking incessantly, as if commentating while others play in silence, possibly because they are focusing so intently.

 Physical Development

Play with highly malleable, open-ended resources is great for developing fine and gross motor skills and building strength. Children’s play and learning is often full-bodied, like mark-making in dry or wet sand; splashing in muddy puddles; squeezing sand or mud between fingers; or painting with a fat brush. All these actions require wide-ranging physical skills and mastery, but these are rarely children’s goal.

And therein lies the key to implementing the new EYFS, ensuring that learning remains rooted in children’s interests, is enriching and above all fun.”

Look out for the latest Open University Press publication from Play To Z founder, Sue Gascoyne –“Treasure Baskets and Beyond: Realizing the potential of Sensory-rich Play” . “This accomplished book represents an impressive and important extension of previous writing in the field and is sure to expand practitioners’ understanding of the fascinating medium that is the treasure basket.” – Janet Moyles (Author and Professor Emeritus at Anglia Ruskin University)

My book: Play Foundations – Senses: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Play-Foundations-Senses-Laura-Henry/dp/0007492758

Contact Sue:

+44(0)1206 796722



Follow Sue on Twitter: @PlaytoZ


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  • psw260259

    Totally agree Sue – a superb blog that I am sure will inspire many.I ran a course last night for childminders on the EYFS 12 – and was stressing that planning should be about the environment – and also that unless personally want to – no need to put planning in writing – a photograph says it all.
    As your lovely photo’s do – you can see the environment planned, how meeting the children’s interests and stage of development needs. – and a number taken over a period of days, weeks or even months will show next steps planning (as environment will be adapted) and progress (as child will do different things within the environment)

    As you say – EYFS 12 provides us all with the opportunity to have fun through learning through play.

  • Pingback: Feedback from Early Years 2012 conference – Part One « Penny's Place Childminding

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