The importance of sensory experiences

Look, listen, smell, taste, touch: the five senses in action.

Take a moment to think of the last time you used all five senses to engage in something. Babies and young children do this all the time, employing all five on a regular basis to learn all they can from their experiences.

As a baby and young child, the world is an extraordinary place with so much to learn and discover. Children explore the world with heightened sensitivity to sight, smell, touch, taste and sound. Most young children engage fully with all five senses in all activities, which is why we so often see photos of babies with food all over their hands, their face and the table, experiencing the pure delight of the flavours and smells, the sounds the food makes when it hits the floor, how it feels on their skin and looks in their hands. They fully engage with the experience of eating and build neural pathways while learning so much about what they do and don’t like and how the world works around them. Clearly, as children mature, eating is not quite so messy, but still a wonderful multi-sensory experience.

Nowadays, we know so much more about the critical periods children’s development in the early years and especially about brain development. The information from the neuroscience world is that is high levels of sensory input and stimulation from birth increase the neural pathways of the brain. Conversely, low levels of sensory stimulation cause the underdevelopment of the brain, which can lead to a decreased vocabulary, impaired social emotional development and deceased cognitive capacity.

As they use and develop their senses, different parts of the brain are stimulated. The mid-brain, or parietal lobe, supports the understanding of touch; the back of the brain, the occipital lobe, is associated with the development of vison; the temporal lobe at the front of the brain responds to smells and tastes; and the cerebellum helps with balance and physical movement. For more detailed information about the brain, click here.

It is generally accepted by early childhood educators and specialists in the field of paediatrics and child development that the critical benefits of sensory play can be seen in five main areas:

  • Sensory play builds nerve connections within the developing brain’s neural pathways, which trigger a child’s inclination for and ability in competing for more complex learning tasks.
  • Sensory play supports language development, cognitive growth, motor skills, problem-solving skills and social interaction.
  • Sensory play aids in developing and enhancing memory functioning.
  • Sensory play is great for calming an anxious or frustrated child.
  • Sensory play helps children learn vitally important sensory attributes (hot, cold, sticky, dry, etc).

Creative Play UK

In the ELC, we acknowledge the huge benefits of sensory play right from the babies through to our Oak and Bay Room children and, as such, we intentionally plan and implement a wide variety of sensory play-based experiences that enhance all areas of development for all the senses based both on individual and group needs and interests.

Some children are more sensory focussed than others, but all need the opportunity to have many multi-sensory experiences for their optimum development.

As we head into the end of Semester 1, I’d like to thank you all for your ongoing trust and support as we continue to navigate the changing landscape of the government regulations and changing rules. We value the predictability of routine for the children in their learning and in managing their worries. Lead educators look forward to meeting with you to share and discuss your child’s development over the next two weeks.

Wendy Seidler
Director of ELC Kew