What is a sensory gym and what are the benefits for children?
It’s a frequently asked question among parents or guardians.
You may be wondering yourself what a sensory gym is.
If this is the case, then this blog would be a good read for you.
Sensory gyms: what are they?
In its easiest definition, a sensory gym is a place or room that encourages sensory play or sensory activities.
To someone who’s unfamiliar with sensory gyms, looking at one would look like an awesome playroom.
Sensory gyms are what some people would call a “child’s paradise.” The varying sensory equipment you’d see inside one actually encourages play. But more that, every equipment you see is there to help build independence, motor skills and even communication among children.
The importance of sensory play and sensory gym
Children learn best when they play.
In fact, play plays (no pun intended!) an important role in learning – no matter a person’s age.
There are also many reasons why play is encouraged among children.
It gives your child a choice to do whatever he or she wants based on their current interests.
It’s ALWAYS fun and enjoyable.
It builds imagination.
It’s driven by intrinsic motivation to help a child discover what he or she can do.
It’s one of the best learning methods in a risk-free environment.
Lastly, play allows children to try and experiment new ideas.
Professor Doris Fromberg, Director of Early Childhood Teacher Education at Hofstra University, talked about the importance of play as it becomes the key that “pulls together the logical and creative parts of the brain.”
Even simple activities such as rolling on the floor, climbing a slide and going back down, running around or dancing are all important in fine tuning a child’s motor skills. It also helps in their muscle development.
Play also involves the stimulation and regulation of their emotions. This is important to help build and develop their social skills with others.
With that said, the sense of adventure and imagination through play is very important in the holistic development of every child.
Sensory gyms and common misconceptions
A very common misconception with sensory gyms is that there is an age limit to them.
The truth is this:
Play is necessary for people of all walks and ages.
People of all ages are encouraged to “play” in one way or another to stay active in both mind in body.
You can easily pat yourself in the back and say, “You are never too old – or too young – to play.”
But sensory gyms are even more beneficial to children and adults with sensory disorders.
You probably confuse sensory gyms with the typical health and fitness gyms.
But the moment you step into a sensory gym, you’d find that bright colored walls and kid-friendly stations are far from the kind of fitness gym you have in mind.
Unlike before, therapy centers for people with disabilities and hospitals are the only place for sensory gyms.
Now, there are independent franchises like Special Strong which provides sensory training to people with disabilities, including those with ADHD and also autism spectrum disorder or ASD.
You’re probably wondering what “sensory disorders” might be.
By definition, sensory processing disorders are a condition in which the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to sensory input.
Here are a few concrete examples of what sensory disorders are:
Constantly bumping into things
Sensitivity to loud noises or light
Feeling irritable with certain cloth textures
Avoidance of human touch
Most of the time, sensory disorders are a symptom of another condition, like autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.
Some children dive under the table when they hear loud noises. Others recoil from certain textures. There are also some who become picky eaters because they don’t like the texture of certain foods. On the other hand, some keeps putting objects into their mouth. Some doesn’t like to be touched or hugged. Others seem to have no response to heat or cold. Some looks like they are immune to pain.
All these are indications of a sensory disorder.
Because treatment still depends on a child’s or person’s sensory needs individually, the best treatment for people with sensory disorders is sensory integration.
This is where sensory gyms come in and why they are important to children.
As a form of therapy and treatment, sensory integration helps a child learn how to respond appropriately to outside stimuli. How? With the help of play that is fun and meaningful for them.
With sensory integration, the eight senses are developed to help the child experience and make sense of the world around them.
The eight senses
You are surely familiar with the five senses. You’ve learned it in school early on.
The five (5) common senses are sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.
But there are three special senses involved in sensory integration. These are the vestibular, interoception and proprioception senses.
The vestibular sense helps maintain your body posture and balance. It’s best known as the balance center of your body. This type of sense allows you to ride a skateboard or slide down a bendy slide without feeling disoriented even as you move.
The proprioception sense is a lot similar to vestibular sense. However, this sense mainly informs your body’s position in space. It is well-known as the position sense that lets you touch your nose or ears even if your eyes are closed. This is also the sense that allows you to walk without looking at your feet to see if they’re moving.
Lastly is the interoception sense. This is the sense lesser known because it has something to do with your body’s self-regulation. This is the sense responsible for you feeling hungry, itchy, in pain or cold. It’s your internal signal that lets you feel what’s going on inside your body and tells you to respond appropriately.
As you have read earlier, sensory disorders are a common symptom of other conditions like autism and ADHD. Hence, children with sensory disorders are encouraged to have a sensory diet to keep their body and mind alert and focused.
This is where the use of sensory gyms become important. Since sensory gyms have the proper equipment, children, teens and even adults alike can benefit from a sensory diet. These are group of activities specially designed to assist with a person’s need for sensory input.
If you’re not still convinced that a sensory gym is a must for your child with ADHD or autism, here are some more benefits that might convince you.
Calm your child
Exercise has been known to ease symptoms of anxiety and even depression. Overall, exercise makes you feel better.
Just imagine a child with ADHD or autism. They’re kids who’d likely be on edge. Some of them have more energy to burn than you.
A sensory room that allows them the kind of sensory stimulation they need can promote positive reaction among them. In turn, they feel calmer and more able to control their emotions.
You can help your child calm and relax even more by using essential oils like cedarwood.
Interested to learn more about essential oils? Check out our post here.
Stimulate the senses
Because sensory disorders disrupt the normal body functions, it’s important that your child has the right input to stimulate their senses. A sensory gym with specially designed sensory equipment can help them explore and become more aware of their surroundings.
Enhance other form of therapy
Sensory gyms are not an alternative to therapy. But what they do is enhance the benefits that therapy brings. One of the reasons is that sensory rooms give children a safe place to acclimatize to different stimuli. It also helps them become independent in a way. Because of the safe and risk-free environment, kids are less prone to stress which makes it easy for them to socialize. In effect, a sensory place helps reinforce the things they learn in therapy which helps maximize the benefit of any form of therapy.
Build social skills
You child doesn’t have to be isolated just because they have SPD. In fact, a sensory room is a good place to help your child build rapport by interacting with others.
Because sensory rooms support play, it’s a stress-free and risk-free environment to encourage your child to socialize. With other kids their age, they can explore together. They can practice becoming aware not only of their surroundings but also the people around them.
Develop motor skills
Any form of movement develops the muscle.
This is very important since children with SPD also suffer from one or another condition like ASD. By providing a safe environment for them, a sensory room can help your child stay active and get moving.
You don’t have to tell them to jump on a trampoline. When they see other kids doing it, it can encourage your child to do the same. All you have to do is let them choose the activity that interests them and guide them through it. It also helps if there is a trained fitness trainer or professional to guide them through different sensory equipment.
Develops the mind and improves thinking
Another benefit of sensory rooms is cognitive development. It’s true that sensory rooms cannot rewire your brain, but it’s a key tool to help your child cope in real-life situations. Sensory rooms make them think and process information. The process may be slower than normal, but it’s progress all the same. With a sensory gym, your kids learn how certain actions influence their surroundings or the peope around them. By exposing them to things that stimulate all eight senses, you allow their brain to become accustomed to complex reactions and do accordingly.
Children and people with sensory disorders are often distracted. However unusual that is, it’s pretty normal for them to feel this way. But thanks to the sensory input that they get from sensory rooms or gyms, it “grounds” them and gives them better focus and concentration. You can even role play with them and help them cope easier with real life situations.
Fun and enjoyable
While there are other benefits of sensory rooms, one of the most important for children is the aspect of fun.
Kids with ADHD or ASD are still kids.
They will still enjoy activities that brings them a good laugh.
To do things that keep them excited and engaged is one of the best encouragement to keep them active. Learning in a school setting can become overwhelming for children with SPD. But with a sensory gym, learning is much more fun because it’s an environment designed to make them feel comfortable with the right sensory equipment.
So you see enrolling your child in a sensory gym can give them an outlet for their never ending energy. On the other hand, such a gym can introduce them to different sensory inputs if you find your child lacking in response with regards to sensory input.
If you think that sensory gyms are not yet for you at the moment, you can always outfit a room in your house. Start your own sensory room and equip it with some basic equipment like:
- sensory swings,
- therapy balls,
- balance swings,
- pogo jumpers,
- slides and
- even monkey bars to name a few.
Need more ideas? Check this out: Top 10 Sensory Gym Equipment for Special Needs
If you’re out of budget to buy sensory gym equipment at the moment, you can try these 10 activities to help build your child’s social skills.
The bottom line
Our eight senses are literally the reason why the world around us makes sense.
If your child has a hard time making sense of what’s happening around him or her, it’s best to help them through therapy or sensory integration with the help of sensory gyms.
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