Sensory with a purpose

by Melissa Caiazzo

Everyone loves sensory play! It is full of cool textures, sights, sounds, and smells. It can help children self-regulate, fulfill different sensory needs, explore, and interact with their peers. All children can benefit from sensory play and for children with special needs, it is crucial to have sensory play integrated into the day. However, sensory play isn’t just fun, it serves another important purpose- to help children learn. Children learn about their world through their senses and quality sensory experiences can help children develop an understanding of the world around them. When we as adults create sensory experiences for children, they should have a purpose. Use fun materials that feel cool like Play Dough, Moon Sand, and shaving cream but also give children a prompt or a challenge when playing with these materials. Fill a bin with rice and cups for scooping, but also challenge children to explore what it means to be full, empty, heavy, and light. Instead of creating materials for children to play in all of the time, use real-world materials to provide a sensory experience and help children learn new skills (like planting seeds in dirt). Sensory bins can be themed to help students explore different topics and make connections to stories and songs, and sensory bins can help students learn pre-academic skills such as letter and number recognition, counting, colors, and shapes. We as adults just have to make sure that when we provide these sensory experiences for children, they are rich with opportunities for children to discover new things and develop new skills.


In this sensory bin, children explore size, weight, and color using dirt, pots, and toy bugs!


In this autumn sensory bin, children practiced colors, counting, and finding out how many leaves and pumpkins they could fit into a basket.

Melissa Caiazzo has been teaching Special Education for 4 years, working in high school, elementary school, and preschool. She also spent 4 years as a head counselor in a camp for children and teenagers with special needs. She has been with Easter Seals for about two and a half years both as a substitute teacher and classroom teacher and has had the opportunity to work with all kinds of kids with different disabilities. Her favorite part of her job is watching each young child grow and develop in his/her own way. Melissa is also a musician and you can catch her singing and dancing with her students (and teacher assistant!) on a regular basis.      

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