I was recently at the house of one of my kiddos and her younger siblings were jumping all over the couch, cushions were flying and they were having a grand old time. Her mom looked at me and said, now her OT would say that the kids were providing themselves with sensory regulation and it was good for them, I just think they are destroying my furniture!
This got me thinking about society and development today. Whenever I am at a school I can’t help but check out their play structures and play yard. I almost never see swing sets anymore, they’ve become a safety risk. Same for merry go rounds. They are a rare commodity these days on playgrounds. I remember some of my favorite memories of growing up are playing on the playground. We used to see who could swing the highest and then jump the furthest off the swing. We would run around the merry go round and then hop on to see who could get it to spin the longest. These were times of exploration for me and my friends. We didn’t realize it at the time, we just knew we were having fun. By removing the risk for traumatic injury are we depriving our children of the ability to stimulate their sensory systems so they begin to learn how to regulate themselves, explore their environment and learn boundaries both physically and behaviorally?
We are in a time where there is a growing number of children with sensory integration dysfunction. This leads to the question is it being diagnosed more or is the occurrence actually rising? If the occurrence is rising, is it because we have created it with our increase in safety consciousness?
Some other areas that we may be depriving our children of sensory exploration are ball pits and sand boxes. Especially in a public place, cleanliness and germs become the issue. With meal time, do we let our kids play with their food or eat with their hands? What about using jello, or play dough or finger paints. These textures can be good for hands and feet! I understand we want our kids to know behavior boundaries but maybe allow certain times for your kids to engage in this exploring behavior.
For more information on Sensory Integration Dysfunction check out The Out of Sync Child and for sensory exploration ideas check out The Out of Sync Child Has Fun. Another possibility is the use of a sensory exploration box, although this doesn’t seem nearly as much fun as the playground and getting messy! Check out Sensory Exploration and Early Play Skills as well as toys for tactile sensory exploration.
As you can see from the rambling nature of this post, my mind has many more tangents it can explore based on some of the questions I’ve brought up. I don’t have the answers, in fact I think I just have more questions around these topics I’ve broached. What are your thoughts with regards to children’s sensory development in this day and age?