The Five Senses and the Brain

The abilities to hear, see, smell, taste, and touch are known as the Five Senses. The Five Senses aid us with discovery, allowing us to make informed decisions that impact our everyday lives. For babies and toddlers, the use of their Five Senses helps them to begin learning more about their surroundings and aids in their overall brain development.

The human brain is made up of trillions of brain cells (also known as neurons) that are connected through a network of synapses. The average baby’s brain contains around 50 trillion synapses. By the time a child turns three years old, their brain has grown to over 1,000 trillion synapses. To assist with brain development in toddlers, their Five Senses must frequently stimulate their brains – This is easily accomplished through ‘sensory play’.

What is Sensory Play and What Benefits Can It Provide?

Playtime activities that stimulate children’s senses are known as sensory play. Most common types of sensory play are focused on hearing, seeing, and touch, but with a little imagination, any sense can be stimulated.

Some sensory play techniques for toddlers and pre-school aged children might include:

• Squeezing crinkle paper to hear the sound it makes.
• Feeling the contours of different fabrics.
• Seeing and identifying different colored blocks.
• Watching paint colors mix to make different colors while finger painting.
• Observing light and shadow patterns as a flashlight shines on different objects.
• Creating shapes with kinetic sand.
• Learning pitch and tone while singing a song.
• Playing with Scratch and Sniff stickers.
• Taking a nature walk (or stroller ride), which can provide an opportunity to engage multiple senses.

Sensory play encourages the exploration of children’s surroundings. It also teaches children to observe, form a hypothesis, experiment, and make conclusions.

Sensory play also helps children to define which kinds of sensory information is important and which kinds they can filter out. This helps them become better focused on their environment and the tasks they are working on.

Furthermore, sensory activities provide impacts on the brains of children increasing their linguistic capabilities, strengthening their cognitive skills, broadening their visual-spatial capabilities, and developing their social and emotional skills.

Sensory Play’s Importance to Fine Motor Skills

Sensory play is also important for fine motor skills development. Many of the activities associated with sensory play involve exploring things through pinching, pouring, and lacing movements. These activities stimulate and coordinate the same small muscle groups required for strengthening fine motor skills. As children grow older, these same muscle groups become important for developing key life skills such as buttoning, shoe-tying, and writing.

As you can see, sensory play is one of the most important building blocks in any young child’s life. Encouraging them to use their Five Senses while playing fosters opportunities for them to experience, to think, to adapt, and to achieve. This will make the world around them more fascinating to them as they grow older.

To learn more about the role sensory play has in early childhood development, I encourage you to check out the following blogs and articles: