Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Incorporate Sensory Experiences into Academics

Aren't the Early Childhood years/grade levels cute and fun and MeSsY?! When I taught Kdg., Jr. K, and Preschool, I could easily incorporate a lot of sensory play into our daily schedule. Not only was it play, but I often found fun ways to integrate academics with sensory experiences. Now that I'm teaching first grade (which I love, love, love!!!), sensory items were really lacking in my room, and I missed it terribly. I felt like my first graders, just coming from Kindergarten, must be missing it, too! Although, my students last year were completely charming, and never seemed to notice, were completely happy with whatever activities I had available for them to choose, and were too kind to say....I still felt like I was not tending to everyone's needs/interests. As hard as we try, that crazy balance of making activities, tending to 20 (even 30) something personalities, interests, abilities, and learning styles gets tricky! We do the best with what we can at the time.

All year, I said to myself that summer "vacation" would be my time to think of (or pin) ideas to entangle sensory experiences with academics. While I would love an opportunity for a little sensory "play", there certainly isn't time for it....too much is at stake. But to keep learning fun, engaging, and knowing how important sensory is to children, I first needed to remind (justify) to myself why sensory activities are important to young learners, before I went all out and collected ideas and materials to make it all happen.
Photo Cred:

Here's why I think it's important to integrate sensory experiences and academics amongst all the primary grades (and any grade level, really!):

  • We all know that sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways, which lead to the child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks. If we are differentiating instruction as we should, all tasks are complex to each child at some level. If it simply takes some sensory experiences to help this process, I can absolutely justify having a sand/water table in my classroom! 
  • Sensory play supports language development, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving skills, and social interaction. We all know those little loves that need help with fine motor, and so many sensory experiences provide that practice. Integrate academics....2 birds, one stone. 
  • This type of play aids in developing and enhancing memory. YES! Create those pathways and remember the content we are teaching. Will sensory activities aid students to concept mastery? I'm willing to roll the dice on that one. 
  • Sensory play is great for calming an anxious or frustrated child. I don't know about your school, but we don't have school counselors anymore due to budget cuts. We have one counselor that visits 4 Elementary Schools, plus the Jr. High, I believe. While I try to tend to the whole child, individual counseling sessions with the teacher are not an easy feat. If a little time sifting some sand, or digging your hands into something squishy, messy, etc. helps calm a child---I'm all for it. I know I love an opportunity to kick back, put my toes in the sand! If I could bring my work to the beach everyday, I certainly would! 
Photo Cred:
Gosh....I used to have a water table filled with these letters for letter recognition, letter sequencing from A-Z, letter matching (upper/lower, upper/upper, lower/lower)....but HELLO?! Why not put our spelling lists next to the water table and allow them to fish for their spelling words?! This is the stuff that makes me remember how un-creative I am sometimes!! OK---this idea, definitely getting put into my 'word work' station this year. 

AMEN to all of that, right?! Stay with me here....let's talk about this a little more then I have a little surprise for you for hanging in there with me. 

So, if you are like me, you are thinking 'Oh, right. Looks fun & there's research to back the importance of sensory experiences for children, but management of it could be a nightmare while I'm working with small groups'. True. It could easily get a little bananas out there----but with rules, expectations, and follow will run smoothly just like everything else in your classroom. Treat this kind of learning as a privilege. There are certainly less desirable ways to learn concepts (ahem, worksheets upon worksheets). With firm guidelines, mutual trust and respect, it should all be just fine! 

I have both a turtle sandbox and a sand table in storage----it's not whether I will use one in my classroom this year, but a matter of WHICH one?! If you have any ideas to integrate sensory experiences with the first grade common core, please do share your ideas! 

In the meantime, I'm sharing with you two items from my TpT and TN shops FREE for a limited time. Blizzard Beach is a sand table math activity I used during math stations last year. My students loved it!!  We used it for two weeks in the winter and then they asked for it to be brought back out at the end of the year. I've recently added Sandbox Stations....and plan to make more sandbox stations as the year continues. Enjoy! 

Click photo to get SandBox Stations


  1. I've just nominated you for the Liebster award. Check it out here: Mrs. Parisi's Kindergarten Class

    Thanks for sharing this post! I totally believe in 'sensory' experiences for young children. Our Board is moving towards play-based learning for Kindergarten. It is a must that we have sand tables, water tables, dramatic and house centers, puppet centers, etc.

    1. Thank you, Ann-Marie! I appreciate your feedback & for following my blog. I am excited for you that you get to include play experiences in your classroom!

  2. Love this post! I saw your product on TPT and it led me here. I'm starting a water unit in science this week and will incorporate water word work! GENIUS! I'm going to link your freebie on my blog today. Thanks so much for the inspiration!