Making Sense of our Senses!
Updated: May 23
We all know how important sensory play is for our children’s early development. But how much do we really understand about our ‘senses’? If you immediately think of the five main senses, read on to find out how much more is really happening!
Children are born with a natural instinct for play and exploration; from birth through to early childhood, they use their senses to investigate and familiarise themselves with the world around them. They do this by touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, moving and hearing. Providing opportunities for children to actively use their senses as they explore their world through ‘sensory play’ is crucial to brain development - engaging the senses helps to build nerve connections in the brain’s pathways.
When we think about how we understand and perceive the world around us, we often refer to the five basic senses, but there is so much more going on – our bodies really are amazing!
Here are some of the more technical terms for each sense:
Taste (gustatory) - the stimulation that comes when our taste receptors react to things in our mouth.
Touch (tactile) - the stimulation from receptors in our skin that react to pressure, heat/cold or vibration.
Smell (olfactory) - the stimulation of chemical receptors in the upper airways (nose).
Sight (visual) - the stimulation of light receptors in our eyes, which our brains then interpret into visual images.
Hearing (auditory) - the reception of sound, via mechanics in our inner ear.
there are other ‘inner’ senses which we are less aware of:
Body awareness (also known as proprioception) – the feedback our brains receive from stretch receptors in our muscles and pressure receptors in our joints. This enables us to gain a sense where our bodies are in space, and where our limbs are in relation to our body. This spatial awareness also links directly to the kinaesthetic sense – relating to movement.
Balance – the stimulation of the vestibular system of the inner ear which tells us about our body position in relation to gravity. Most movement activities will stimulate the vestibular system in the inner ear, which helps the body to know how it is moving and how fast it is moving. These activities can be stimulating for an under-responsive child or calming for an over-responsive child.
And the list goes on… We have senses which receive information relating to temperature (thermic), and weight (baric). Other receptors detect levels of oxygen in certain arteries of the bloodstream. Sometimes, people don't even perceive senses the same way. For example, people with synesthesia can see sounds as colours or associate certain sights with smells.
In our sessions, we provide simple and easy activities to support babies’/toddlers’ sensory development, helping their brains to create stronger connections to process and respond to all of this sensory information.
So the next time you are drinking a cup of tea, taking a bath or even just putting on your socks, try to focus on everything that is happening in that very moment. It’s truly incredible!!