The Importance of Sensory Perception in Under-5s
Today, in the first of a series of posts about the senses, we’ll explore the importance of successful sensory exploration for babies and under-fives. As adults, we tend to take the processing of external sensations and stimuli for granted. However, we were not born with an understanding of most of these; we discovered them, learned about their significance and hard-wired our understanding of them into our brains during our earliest years.
What do we Mean by Sensory Stimuli?
It’s all about the senses, but not only sight, sound, smell, touch and taste; we have other senses that help us to understand and make sense of the world and everything it contains. For example, balance and movement senses are known as vestibular senses. The sensing of information via our body position is known as our proprioception sense. Through all of these, we have a kind of holistic view of the world. When you think about it, processing and integration of external stimuli, through our senses, is crucial for our entire wellbeing. After all, we need to be mindful of things that can harm us just as much as knowing what will be useful or good for us.
How do the Senses Help Children Develop?
Our many senses tell our minds and bodies about the environment, about objects, living things, foods, drink, appearance, smells, danger, pleasure, pain and a whole myriad of additional information about our immediate surroundings. The earlier we start to recognise, process and integrate the significance of these external stimuli, the better it will be for our understanding of the world, our general wellbeing and indeed survival.
Why Else is Sensory Perception So Important?
Sensory experiences are crucial, particularly during early years development. Correctly identifying and understanding the significance of external stimuli, through the senses, allows babies and infants to begin to successfully play their part in the world. It helps them to navigate the things in it, to participate in activities without harming themselves and ultimately to grow and develop as humans successfully. Without understanding and integrating knowledge via the senses, children would be held back in many, profound ways. Simple tasks would be almost impossible. It would be akin to being conscious yet totally unable to operate or even understand our body’s capabilities nor to understand the world we found ourselves in. Without mastery of our senses, our very existence would be under continuous threat.
- Sight initially helps babies to identify and recognise parents and, as they grow into children, everything else around them.
- Sound also helps babies to recognise the voice of their own parents (even when still in the womb) and later also helps with communication. It also helps them to be forewarned about what might be close by, whether or not it is in sight.
- Smell and taste senses are closely linked and clearly have a huge impact on the appeal, or otherwise, of possible food sources, particularly milk in the early stages. Interestingly, smell also has close links to long-term memory, for example how a particular place smells. Just a tiny whiff of a long-forgotten scent can bring back instant memories of a time long ago, way into adulthood.
- Touch senses not only tell babies and children about the environment and objects around them, for example whether things are hot, cold, soft or sharp. It also helps them to learn about how to control their own fingers, limbs, muscles and movements in order to control those things if needed. Without a deep understanding and integration of touch skills, our bodies would be rather out of control, in danger of harm and really quite unable to function satisfactorily.
- Balance and movement (proprioception) and vestibular (sensing through body position) senses help us understand and adapt to external forces like gravity, weight, wind and even to the consequences of our own movements. If we do not process and integrate a comprehensive understanding of such stimuli and effects, we would not be able to walk, run, cycle, swim, dress or even lift objects and tools in a satisfactory way. Anyone observing a recently born baby will indeed be able to notice the lack of intent and control over limb movement, for example. Within weeks, though, that same baby will have assimilated everything it needs to know, through the senses, in order to adapt each muscle and limb movement to meet its goals and needs.
Learning about the senses helps babies and infants tell one sense or stimulus from another. With a cacophony of such stimuli often around them, this skill is incredibly important as it helps them to ‘filter’ what needs their attention and what can, at any point in time, be ignored.
Mastery of the senses also helps children’s brains to develop. As senses are explored, perceived and integrated, millions of new pathways are formed in the brain. These will set up good foundations upon which to build additional connections as children grow and develop.
Even language skills are improved because of the senses, not least because children will learn a new vocabulary around how things look, smell, taste, sound, feel and so on. In this way, they’ll be able to more specifically describe objects and environments and understand their own place within the world. This language enhancement also helps them to think in more creative ways.
In our next post, we’ll continue to explore senses as we look at some of the sensory play activities that can help young children integrate a comprehensive view of the world and their place within it. So, do come back for another update soon.
A Nursery Near Birmingham (B16), Ladywood, Harborne, Bearwood & Smethwick
Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery has a whole raft of sensory activities to help children absolutely flourish. Leaps & Bounds is a weekday childcare nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham B16. If you’re looking for outstanding nurseries near Birmingham, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood or Smethwick, we are conveniently close. We’re also one of the few Forest Schools in Birmingham, where under-fives can enjoy and learn from nature in the local open spaces, woodlands and reservoirs around Edgbaston and Birmingham. Choose a button below to find out more or to arrange a visit: