Sensory Brain Development in Young Children

by Jackie Edwards Guest Contributor

In recent years there’s been a lot of buzz about "sensory brain development" in kids. Medical professionals tell us that human brain development is at a critical point between the ages of 1 and 3. However, though parents might want to do more at home to enhance their child’s brain development, they often don’t understand what sensory brain development means. Confusion often forces parents to leave everything up to schools, daycare centers and caregivers to provide their children with the mysterious, “rich, sensory experiences,” they need — not realizing that they, as parents, contribute to the sensory development of their children every day.

It’s unfortunate that teachers and doctors often make simple things sound complicated, while many professionals underestimate the value of parents’ contribution to their child’s life by overvaluing their own educational backgrounds and professional experiences.

What is sensory brain development?

Who hasn’t watched a toddling baby and wondered, “Why in the world he would want to put that in his mouth?”

Usually another adult in the room will throw out an explanation, “Well, that’s how he learns.” The rest of the day goes on. We continue watching TV. We don’t think twice about the conversation. But that toddler's act is, in part, "sensory learning."

It's not a hard concept to understand. In fact, we’ve all experienced it ourselves. Some of our strongest memories from childhood likely contain experiences involving one or more of our senses. We recall the smell of our grandmother’s apple pie; how our Barbies and race cars looked; how our beds felt; how terrifying it was to see our own blood when we skinned our knees for the first time.

The reason these memories are so strong is because our senses are the most developed part of our bodies when we're between 1 and 3 years old. The senses are so defined at this age in order to improve our chances of survival. We can identify the smell of our mothers before we can talk. We snuggle up quickly to physically warm, cozy environments. We respond to kind, giving people by turning on our own charm. This is how we survive.

Children ages 1 to 3 have overdeveloped senses to gather information for survival. Every experience that involves a child’s senses contributes to his sensory brain development.

Your child’s senses and his brain

Rich sensory experiences include:

  • Playing classical music

  • Serving yummy foods

  • Playing with play dough

  • Enjoying finger painting

  • Playing in the sand

  • Smelling perfumes and scented lotion

  • Taking trips to museums

Our sensory neurons carry stimuli information to the brain to produce electrical impulses or currents. This process builds new connections in a child’s brain. Kids then use the information they glean from their senses to:

  • Recognize, classify and sort out the world around them

  • Define their sense of self (what they like and don’t like)

  • Develop social skills (watching what others like and don’t like)

As a parent, enhancing your child’s sensory brain development is simple: make your child smarter by increasing the opportunities for your child to touch, smell, taste, see and hear new and enriching things.

Jackie Edwards
Meet Our Writer
Jackie Edwards

Jackie Edwards is an editor, researcher, and writer as well as a mom of two girls — one of whom is on the Austism spectrum. As a result of her daughter's being bullyied at school, Jackie understands the sense of helplessness that adults can feel in trying to support their children. She's helped develop a useful guide for helping children deal with bullies and and volunteers at a number of local mental health charities.