Sensory Development in Children

Infants, from the moment they are born, begin to collect information about their surrounding environment with the help of their senses. 

During the initial stages of development, children are heavily dependent on one or more of their senses to associate and understand the world that surrounds them. 

For the initial six years of their lives, children are highly susceptible to the stimuli present in their environment. 

Whether it is recognizing the mother’s scent of comfort and love, or hearing the tranquil chirping of birds outside of the window, children retain information based on their senses.

The senses are the gateway to knowledge, especially during the initial six years of the child’s life.

Sensory development is a unique method of holistic education that helps infants strengthen their senses in order to explore their surrounding environment. 

If you are interested in incorporating sensory development activities or sensory play into your child’s curriculum, look no further. 

Given below is everything you should know about Senses, sensory development, and sensory play to facilitate your child’s holistic development.

What is Sensory Development?

Infants during the early stages of development retain information solely on the basis of their senses. 

These senses act as a gateway to knowledge that allows the child to comprehend and understand the world that is around them. 

Sensory development naturally begins during the gestation period and continues throughout childhood. 

Sensory development is a crucial technique during the initial stages of development that not only affects the child’s health but also provides support to lay down a firm foundation for their future prospects. 

When provided with the right opportunities and stimuli, children are able to achieve age-appropriate milestones fairly quickly.

A General Acquaintance with the Seven Senses:

All of us are aware of the five basic senses: touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing, but did you know that there are a total of seven senses that promote holistic development?

Here is a general acquaintance and a brief description of the seven senses that promote cognitive, physical, and social development in children:

1. Visual Sense:

The visual sense or the sense develops during the gestation period when the infant is about nine weeks old. 

After birth children with the help of visual senses are able to detect motion, observe objects eight inches away from them, and are able to distinguish red and green colors. 

Visual sense allows the child to retain information, recognize the objects in the environment, and build a vocabulary of the objects they see.

Visual sense also promotes the child to perfect tasks that require hand-eye coordination and develop spatial perception as well as the perception of depth.

2. Auditory Sense:

The auditory sense or the sense of hearing allows individuals to interpret the sounds in their surrounding environment. 

The auditory structure begins to develop during the fifth week of the gestation period, and by the twenty-fourth week, the auditory structure is fully developed.

The auditory sense is imperative for cognitive and intellectual development as well as for the development of auditory perceptual skills. 

3. Olfactory Sense:

The olfactory sense or the sense of smell allows the individual to distinguish between different smells present in the surrounding environment. 

This sense is based on the interpretation of the chemical changes taking place in the environment. 

The olfactory system in infants fully develops by the fourteenth week of gestation. 

The sense of smell is surprisingly associated with the emotional part of the brain that helps infants interpret, recognize, and identify familiar memories based on smell. 

The olfactory sense also provides infants with the ability to detect danger, by recognizing pheromones emitted by a person that can be dangerous. 

4. Gustatory sense:

The gustatory system or the gustatory sense allows individuals to perceive different tastes and flavors. 

The gustatory system in humans often develops in the womb around 28 weeks after conceiving.

Infants are born with a completely developed gustatory system including the taste glands that helps them sense sweet, sour, bitter, and salty tastes. 

 Gustatory sense allows children to distinguish between edible and inedible foods, as well as differentiate between different tastes. 

5. Tactile Sense:

The skin itself is covered with several somatosensory receptors that allow individuals to feel or touch different textures.

The tactile sense is the product of the sensory receptors that come into contact with a surface passing a message to the brain with the help of neurons to distinguish different sensations such as pain or temperature. 

The tactile sense is developed in the fetus immediately after conception. The fetus is able to sense pain or temperature changes inside the womb. 

The tactile sense of touch is the primary way children initially begin to establish an understanding of the objects present in their surroundings.

Infants from the time they are born start to touch, feel, or sense, any object in their vicinity. 

The tactile sense helps infants feel pain, pleasure, and pressure, and develop an understanding of the world around them. 

The sense of touch is also responsible for emotional development, as babies who are constantly caring and loving in touch with their caregivers are healthier. 

6. Vestibular Sense:

The vestibular sense is an important aspect of the child’s developmental process that is seldom discussed when learning about sensory development. 

The Movement sensations or the vestibular sense allow the infant to maintain their balance.

The vestibular system is present in the inner ears that are responsible for developing the sense of balance. 

This sense is developed during the eighth week of the gestation period and strengthens throughout childhood. 

The sense of balance manifests when the child begins to independently hold their head up and progress till the child begins to walk. 

After learning how to walk, children are able to perform complex tasks requiring the ability to balance. 

7. Proprioception Sense:

The proprioception sense or the sense of body awareness is a result of other senses working in coordination. 

The sense of body awareness or proprioception is a result of the movement and the position of the four limbs in proportion to the surrounding space.

The proprioceptors are present in joints, muscles, tendons, and the inner ear that send messages to the brain through neurons. 

The proprioception sense or body awareness allows infants to determine the position of their body in relation to the space, and become aware of their limbs. 

The proprioception sense is a requisite for promoting children to reach age-appropriate milestones such as walking, crawling, sitting, or controlling their limbs. 

Body awareness or the Proprioception sense also contributes to regulating emotions such as comfort or discomfort.

What is Sensory Play?

Sensory Play is referred to activities that provide the child with appropriate stimuli to stimulate their senses. 

Mainly focusing on the development of the main five senses: visual, tactile, auditory, gustatory, and olfactory senses, these activities also promote the development of vestibular and proprioceptive senses. 

Sensory play is a unique way of allowing your child to safely and independently explore new stimuli and develop an understanding of the world that surrounds them. 

Sensory activities also promote children to utilize their energy on valuable and beneficial activities that allow children to develop as they play.

What is the importance of sensory play?

The chief aim of sensory play for toddlers and infants is to help them recognize and understand the world that surrounds them. 

Not only do the activities involving sensory play stimulate the child’s senses, but they also promote physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development in children. 

Sensory play or activities provide children with the right opportunities that prepare them for performing different tasks such as self-care activities. 

Sensory Play activities also promote the development and enhancement of gross motor skills as well as fine motor skills in children.

Are there different types of Sensory Play?

Sensory play and sensory development are crucial aspects of the early development stages. 

The human brain for the initial six years passes through a myriad of changes that require different stimuli to facilitate development. 

Hence, there are different types of sensory play activities that accommodate the sensorial needs and requirements of different ages.

Here is a list of different types of sensory play activities for different stages of development:

Infants:

During the infancy stage, children are beginning to establish their understanding of their surrounding environment. 

Parents can acquaint their children with different visual, tactile, or auditory stimuli such as textured fabrics or different colored paper. 

Toddlers:

Allow your tiny toddler to become an explorer of stimuli and knowledge independently. 

Provide them with ample opportunities to indulge in hands-on learning such as finger painting to observe new patterns or create shadow puppets. 

Preschoolers:

Enhance the child’s development and experience new sensations by promoting them to perform complex activities such as pottery, playing musical instruments, or gardening.

A list of fun and engaging Sensory Play Activities:

During the initial three years, children reach several age-appropriate milestones. Children gain knowledge and retain information for the initial six years on the basis of their senses.

Sensory play activities can be an effective way of providing the child with appropriate stimuli to promote development. 

It can be quite bewildering for parents to determine the right activities that promote effective sensorial stimulation. 

Here is a list of some fun and exciting Sensory Play activities for toddlers and preschoolers that will enhance their learning experience:

1. Balance Boards:

Balance boards are one exciting way of enhancing your child’s gross motor skills through productive play. 

A Balance Board is a curved wooden board usually meant for young children or toddlers to play with. 

These boards are great for physical activities, exercise activities, and the child’s overall entertainment. 

Synonymously known as Wobble Boards, Balance Boards are a versatile way of developing the child’s gross motor skills, developing balance, improving the child’s posture, and strengthening their core muscles. 

Balance boards are great for young children and toddlers as they allow the child to strengthen and develop your child in a fun way. 

2. Sensory bins:

Allow your child to immerse themselves in a fun and engaging sensorial experience with the help of sensory tables or sensory bins. 

It is as simple as filling up a bin with different textured or shaped objects such as rocks, sticks, pebbles, or fabrics for the child to play with. 

You can also provide the child with food-related materials such as beans, pasta, and rice. 

It is important to clean out the materials incorporated into the bins before the child begins to play with them. 

3. Gardening activities:

What better way to bring your child closer to mother nature than by promoting them to perform gardening activities. 

Encourage your child to get their hands dirty and plant their own garden which not only will promote sensory development but also give them a sense of fulfillment.

Bring out the egg carton and plant some seeds into the egg compartments to create your miniature garden. 

Other activities such as playing in the dirt, smelling plants or herbs, and watering plants are also fun ways of stimulating the child’s senses. 

4. Sound tubes:

Acquaint the child with different sounds by creating your own DIY sound tubes. All you need is paper towel tubes and different objects such as beads, beads, or rice to produce unique sounds. 

Fill up the tubes with different materials and close both ends of the tube to avoid the materials from spilling out. 

Allow your child to rattle, shake, and hear the different sounds produced by your homemade sound tubes. 

5. Tasting Bottles:

Enhance the child’s gustatory sense by providing them with different tasting bottles. The child is given two sets of bottles with matching tastes. 

The Tasting bottles stimulate, develop, and refine the child’s gustatory sense and help the child identify and isolate different tastes. 

The child has to identify the taste and pair the matching bottles. These Tasting Bottles include 4 fundamental tastes: Salty, Sweet, bitter, and Sour.
The adult must fill the tasting bottles with four fundamental tastes using a dropper.

The fundamental tastes can be easily achieved:  

Salty: For salty taste, salt is mixed with water

Sweet: For a sweet taste, Sugar is mixed with water 

Bitter: Tonic water is used

Sour: For a sour taste, Lemon is mixed in water

6. Play dough:

You can either create your own homemade playdough or purchase fun playdough sets online. 

The soft and moldable texture of play dough provides children with a unique sensorial experience. 

Encourage your child to roll, chop, kneed, and cut the play dough or even create their own unique artwork. 

7. Water play:

Whether it is a baby pool or a tub filled with water and marine figurines, there is no harm in playing with water. 

Water play activities are a fun way to promote the development of gross motor skills and sensory development.

So is sensory play beneficial?

Sensory Play and Sensory activities help develop a connection between the brain’s pathways that allows the child to learn how to perform complex tasks.

Not only activities, but Sensory play also promotes language development, cognitive development, and the enhancement of gross motor as well as fine motor skills.

Sensory play also promotes the development of muscle memory and allows the child to sense temperatures as well as textures.

Lastly, the sensory play also promotes the development of problem-solving skills, social skills, communicative skills, and analytical skills in children.