The Five Senses of touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing are one of the key ways in which children take in information, respond to their environment, seek nourishment and comfort, and bond with their caregivers. While some senses, like touch and hearing, are fully developed at birth, others, such as sight, take several months to mature.
Below is what to expect and what you can do to stimulate each of your baby's senses. Stimulating the senses helps with a child's creativity and imagination, allows children to regulate, develop social skills with peers such as cooperation and turn-taking, develops motor skills, and teaches self-expression. For example, incorporating sensory play such as freeze dance with rain sticks or spice painting a canvas with peers/siblings helps your child develop important motor skills and social skills such as creativity, cooperation, and getting along with others. Parents are their children’s first and best teachers of their child’s senses and therefore have a role in being actively involved in developing their children’s understanding of their senses. Children are more aware of their senses when their parents are involved and the best sensory activities occur when the adult participates alongside the child, rather than just providing the materials. Becoming part of your child’s sensory world such as playing in slime might be hard at first but is beneficial for all parties involved! As adults, we tend to be much more visual, but for young children, all the senses converge to form an overall impression of how the world works.
What was previously understood as an infant’s reflexes, such as the suckling reflex, rooting reflex, and the grasp and walking reflexes, are now known to be aspects of a motive to learn more. Even very small babies understand a lot and are not as reflex controlled as was once believed. Things that a newborn does are usually triggered by some sort of motive to learn more. If you have ever watched a baby mouth objects, it’s not because they are hungry or really wanting to gross you out it’s because they are exploring how they feel with their mouths.
* Remember that not every child is the same and some may reach certain milestones at different ages. *
The 5 senses:
At birth, your baby is only able to see around 8 to 12 inches away or the distance between a parent’s face to the baby in their arms. Their vision is blurry and they may appear to have uncoordinated eye movements or even seem cross-eyed. A newborn's eyes are a little more than half the size of an adult's eyes. They grow the most in the first year, then slowly grow until puberty.
Newborns see mostly shapes and shades and whether something is big, small, bright, or dark. By eight weeks, babies begin to more easily focus their eyes on the faces of a parent or other person near them. However, babies can follow or track an object in the first few weeks. Eye-hand coordination begins to develop as the infant starts tracking moving objects with their eyes and reaching for them. Newborns can detect light and dark but cannot see all colors. Therefore, many baby books and infant stimulation toys have distinct black and white patterns. By 4 months, your baby will see farther and use his eyes to track moving objects, and by 5 months he’ll have more depth perception. Somewhere between 4 and 6 months, he’ll be able to see all colors. By 10 months of age, a baby should be able to grasp objects with thumb and forefinger.
And by the time he's walking and crawling, between 8 and 12 months, he'll be able to use his depth perception to judge distances as he explores. Parents should encourage crawling rather than early walking to help the child develop better eye-hand coordination. Your child’s focus continues to improve over the first 2 to 3 years of life until reaching normal 20/20 vision.
Your baby can hear sounds from the outside world when you’re about 23 weeks pregnant. By 35 weeks, all parts of the ear are completely formed, but your baby’s hearing continues to be fine-tuned, even after birth. Since a baby's hearing starts to develop while she's still in the womb, many mothers say during their pregnancy, their baby kicked or jumped in response to loud noises and quieted with soft, soothing music. Early development also explains why your child is familiar with your voice when she's born. She may startle when a door slams because newborns are sensitive to changes in sound, but they can also tune out loud noises after hearing them several times. Also, once she's asleep don't be surprised if she snoozes through even the loudest noises.
Newborn babies with normal hearing will also pay quiet attention to the mother's or father's voice. And they will briefly stop moving when sound at a conversational level is begun. Newborns seem to prefer a higher-pitched voice (the mother's) to a low sounding voice (males). At about 4 months, babies start to look for the source of a sound, and by 6 months they try to imitate sounds. By 8 months, they babble and respond to changes in tone of voice. By your baby's first birthday, she'll probably say single words like "ma-ma" and "da-da" and respond to her own name.
The touch sense develops in utero (prenatal period) at around 16 weeks making it one of the best-developed senses at birth and continues to develop and works well after other senses fail in old age. Tactile learning and touch are essential for a child’s growth in physical abilities, cognitive and language skills, and even social and emotional development.Babies explore through touch, but their preferred tool is their mouth! So don't worry if he sucks or chews on anything he can get his hands on. Instead, make sure you give him things that are safe and clean. When they have more control of their hands and arms, they’ll reach out and grab anything within her reach. According to Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami Medical School says, “Babies can distinguish among different temperatures, textures, shapes, and even weights of objects right away.” Most touch activities involve the hands and feet. Children learn how to communicate with others through touch. Engaging their hands builds their fine motor skills, helping them learn how to do more for themselves, such as writing their names and buttoning their coats.
A child touching objects is important for development but equally important is “safe touches” or affection enacted on a child. Being exposed to the world can cause confusion and panic in newborns. However, touch, such as placing your hand on the child’s belly, cuddling closely, and swaddling can make your baby feel warm and secure. Researchers found that loving touch, characterized by a slow caress or gentle stroking increases the brain's ability to construct a sense of body ownership and plays a big part in creating and sustaining a healthy sense of self.
Holding a baby for feedings is also important because touch is crucial to bonding. Science supports the idea that warmth and affection expressed by parents to their children results in life-long positive outcomes for those children. Higher self-esteem improved academic performance, better parent-child communication, and fewer psychological and behavior problems have been linked to this type of affection. On the other hand, children who do not receive this affection tend to have lower self-esteem and to feel more alienated, hostile, aggressive, and anti-social.
For more info on touch: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2865952/
Your child’s olfactory or smell center in their brain forms very early in fetal development. Your baby will have a good sense of smell from birth. She gets to know your scent on Day 1 and probably recognizes the scent of other people in her life within about a week. "Babies are especially sensitive to the smell of breast milk and can even distinguish it from formula," says Nicholas J. Tapas, M.D.. Research shows newborns have a keen sense of smell and within the first few days they will show a preference for the smell of their own mother, especially to her breast milk.
Your baby's sense of smell plays an important part in her development. It's closely connected to her sense of taste, so it influences what she likes to eat. By recognizing your scent, she feels comforted and secure knowing that she's with you. You can help her distinguish your scent by not wearing highly perfumed or fragranced skin products in the early days. When you cuddle with your baby and smell each other's scent, you both experience higher levels of the hormone oxytocin. This so-called love hormone helps you bond with your baby.
Explore with smells because as children are exposed to different smells, they learn more about their environment by distinguishing between good and bad smells, comfortable and uncomfortable smells to identify comfort and possible danger. Your child's sense of smell will continue to develop until she's around 8 years old.
Taste buds begin forming early in fetal development around 9 weeks, and a baby’s taste buds are already fully developed at birth. Children have a few preferences from birth such as human milk and breastfeeding. This is especially true if they are breastfed first and then offered formula or a bottle. They are also born with a preference for sweets instead of sour or bitter flavors, which they can detect through breast milk. That’s why he may seem less than thrilled to nurse after you’ve eaten brussel sprouts, and greedy after you’ve had a piece of cake.
Newborn to 3 months: Your baby's sense of taste is very sensitive. Newborns can have a wider range of taste buds when compared to adults. This is because taste buds in newborns can be found on the tonsils and the back of the throat, as well as on the tongue. During her first three months, your baby can distinguish between sweet and bitter tastes. She prefers sweet flavors, like the taste of breast milk.
3 to 6 months: Your child’s tongue will grow by 3 months of age, and you may now notice the variety of items he is putting in his mouth, such as stuffed animals or a blanket. Your child is now using his tongue to try and make sense of different textures and tastes. At around 5 months, your baby's sense of taste has changed and he's able to react more to salty tastes. It's not a good idea to give your baby salty foods at this stage, though.
6 to 12 months: After eating breastmilk or formula for several months, children may seem surprised by the tastes of solids. Being accustomed to the taste of milk can cause your child to be suspicious of solid foods at first. After getting on solid food, you'll most likely notice that your child loves the taste of some new foods right away. As they are also likely to reject certain foods it is important to offer them numerous times. Experts suggest offering a new food at least eight times before deciding your baby doesn't like it. By about 7-8 months your baby will have developed the motor capacity to try finger foods which allows ample opportunity for her to try new tastes and explore different textures with a variety of soft fruits or vegetables.
Watch some of our favorite educational videos on the five senses
What are the different senses?
Why are the senses important?
What are the different characteristics of the senses?
The special sense vision is how the qualities of an object creating its appearance are viewed by someone. It allows us to identify shapes, reliefs, distances and color of what is being observed. The binocular vision (i.e. that carried out by both eyes at the same time) is that which allows the perception of 3-d objects within a space.
Hearing -The sense of hearing manifests itself through the ears, which detect sound. Hearing is the perception of sound. Sound is detected by the ear through vibrations that enter the ear canal and vibrate the eardrum. The vibrations then extend to the inner ear through special bones which further transmit the information to the brain. The brain then advises on what one has heard like hooting, screaming, noise and so on..
Taste- provides information about what flavor certain foods we eat or drink have, allowing us to distinguish between, bitterness, sweetness, flavor and acidity. Taste is the ability to detect different chemicals in food, minerals, and even poisonous substance. The structures that allow us to appreciate the flavor of what we introduce into the mouth of the sensory receptors are highly specialized taste buds. Using these tastes, the body is able to distinguish nutritious from harmful substances. The tongue distinguishes pleasant and disgusting substances.
TThe sense of smell/olfactory is the main sense that allows for the awareness of aromatic stimuli. The sense of smell manifests through the nose. The nose helps detects scents and chemicals in the air. The olfactory receptors in the nose pick out chemicals in the air or from food. These scents travel directly to the olfactory cortex of the brain. The brain interprets these scents and sends back the information, which enables one to detect these odors and recognize a particular smell. Then you are able to know whether it is a good or bad smell and can respond accordingly.
TTouch is the sense which enables us to recognize certain characteristics of physical objects that we come into contact with, such as hardness or shape. Touch also increases the brain's ability to construct a sense of safety as well as body ownership and plays a big part in creating and sustaining a healthy sense of self.
How does my child’s senses help them learn?
Our brain receives signals from each of these organs and interprets them to give us a sense of what's happening around us. They're vitally important to how our bodies operate. Without our senses, we wouldn't have any idea what was going on around us and the human body would be functionally useless. Each of the senses therefore provides important functions and serves a particular intended purpose..
Individually the senses are always active and teaching us about our environment. However, as stated before they collaborate and together the full range of senses helps students learn material in a more concrete manner. Studies show that only certain parts of the brain activate during learning; therefore, visual learning will activate a different part of the brain than would olfactory learning. In a report by D.G. Treichler, as cited in the journal “Trends in Cognitive Sciences,” he stated that “People generally remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and 50% of what they see and hear.” Combining the senses, therefore, is of benefit to students of all learning styles.
Don’t children already naturally develop senses?
How can I help support building up my child’s senses into my busy day?
Many competing demands find most parents at a loss for ways to build sensory activities into their child's daily schedule. However, sensory development can be built into everyday routines and activities. Sensory development takes place outdoors and indoors. In these environments, students can gain context from an environment when they incorporate all their senses. Experiencing new material is rewarding, and it lets your child remember more material and attach more meaning than with passive absorption alone. You can:
- Play I Spy in the car: to help with hearing and sight
- Cook a cake or dinner together for building up all 5 senses
- Sing songs together for hearing
- Read books at bedtime in silly voices for sight and hearing, or even touch with textured book pages
- Play with toys during bath time for touch, hearing, sight.
Just remember, the senses are vital for children's development and parents play an important role as they are their child's best teacher. Parents can learn so much about their children's sensory strengths and needs by watching them explore – do they have aversions to smells, tastes, sounds, etc.. Do they like playing with toys with certain textures or shapes. Parents can support children's development of the senses by providing appropriate sensory materials, structuring their environment to encourage this exploration with the senses, and introducing new types of activities that build upon the previous activities when developmentally appropriate. For example, you can do a sensory box of smells and show the children the containers with the smells and describe the smell as they take a whiff. When they are older you can have them guess without seeing what the smell is, provide containers with new smells, and allow the child to place the objects such as garlic, onion, pepper, cumin, etc.. in their hands and on their tongues.
- 15 Five Senses Activities
- ACTIVITIES USING THE FIVE SENSES
- Pinterest Activities
- Newborn Senses
- 5 Ways to Stimulate Your Baby's Senses
- 21 FIVE SENSES ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS
- How the 5 senses develop during baby’s first year
- Infant Vision: Birth to 24 Months of Age
- Hearing Evaluation in Children
- Hearing Loss in Children
- Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: Tactile System
- Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: Olfactory System
- Touch: How a Parent’s Affection Shapes a Child’s Happiness for Life
- Baby sensory development: Smell
- The Importance of Music
- Description: From an early age - decorate the nursery in bright and vivid colors with bold patterns.
Vision: Angles for our Angels
- Description: By positioning your baby's bassinet in a central location allows you to feed them on both sides to help get them used to seeing from different angles.
Vision: Popsicle Cutout
- Description: When your baby is a newborn to 3 months old, sight is a great sense to focus on. An easy activity to help with vision is making a high-contrast cutout -- such as a white circle in a black one -- attaching it to a Popsicle stick, and tracking the object across your baby's line of vision. This helps build vision and focus, while also aiding in the development of neck muscles, as she turns her head to follow your cutout toy.
Vision: Get On Their Level
- Description: Getting on your child’s level and having your face in your baby's line of sight allows him to focus on your face and watch your movements. For example, they will watch your mouth movements while you are talking and watch your hand movements with games like pat-a-cake and peekaboo at about 4 months to help with hand-eye coordination.
Vision: Soak in sights
- Description: Give your child opportunities to take in a variety of sights, such as going to the zoo, mall, park, or a walk through the neighborhood. When something catches his eye, give him time to inspect it thoroughly.
Vision: Sensory Bottles
- Description: Materials: Empty water bottle, blue hair gel, water beads; Directions: Add blue hair gel and water beads to a water bottle. You can add some food coloring to enhance the color of the hair gel. Add more beads depending on how “gooey” or “bubbly” you want. Mix it up!: add colored water beads; add layers of necklace beads and hair gel; add baby oil mixed with water or with pom poms inside
Vision: Kid Made Coloring Wheel
- Description: Materials: poster board, pen, markers (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and don’t forget there’s purple too!), random objects that represent the colors as shown below. Directions: Use a large white poster board, draw a large circle and divide it like a pie shown below. With your child’s assistance (use hand-over-hand for younger kids) color in the wheel representing each color of the rainbow. Then help your child(ren) apply glue and glue down the different objects to the appropriate color on the wheel. *(Remember when using glue: Just a dot, not a lot) Mix it up!: Combine Mickey Mouse’s rainbow song to further connect associations of colors and objects
- Ages: For children 12-36 months
Vision: Name that photo!
- Description: A fun activity for children as they are naturally drawn to faces is to place photos of familiar people -- including one of your baby -- on the wall, and carry your little one through your homemade exhibit. As you pass each photo, point to it, and in your best, most excited "motherese," tell your child who each person is!
- Description: Or infant-directed speech is Speech directed toward infants and young children that displays special characteristics, such as heightened pitch, exaggerated intonation, and increased repetition of words and clauses, that differ from the speech adults use with one another. Helps your child attune to the different tones and patterns in speech.
Hearing: Natural Sounds
- Description: You can also let her enjoy the sounds of life on walks, at home, etc.. and describe to her what she's hearing. For example, from the sound of a car horn or bird squawking while on a walk to the sound of water splashing during bath time, there are numerous experiences to be had that can help with hearing.
Hearing: Talk and read to your child!
- Description: Talk and read to your child, starting when she's a newborn. There's no reason to wait until she's older. Listening to your voice helps your child develop an ear for the cadence of language. In fact, varying the pitch of your voice, using accents, singing, and vocalizing makes the aural connection between you and your baby that much more stimulating. Plus, the more you talk and read to her, the more sounds and words she learns as she gets ready to talk.
Hearing; Explore music
- Description: Choose perennial children's favorites, or pop in your own favorite CD. Sing to her. Point out the rhythm of a ticking clock and the sound of the wind chimes. Play a xylophone with her or another toy instrument. Music sharpens your child's auditory memory - abilities which are fundamental to language comprehension and helps with emotional intelligence as music can bring on strong emotions
Hearing: Just going with the flow
- Description: You don't need to bombard your baby with words, but if he seems interested, tell him what you're doing. For example, if you're packing the diaper bag, give him a play-by-play description of what goes where. When you dress him, name the color and type of garment you're slipping over his head and describe the texture of the socks you're putting on his feet.
- Description: Hold your baby often. Skin-to-skin contact is especially therapeutic for newborns, doctors say. Simply rubbing on some lotion after a bath is soothing, too, or you can try some gentle massage moves. Let her feel different items on her skin, such as a soft stuffed animal or a bumpy ball. When she’s older and more hands-on, give her toys of different shapes, sizes, and textures.
- Description: Dr. Marquis recommends using the same products regularly, because babies like familiarity. But nix heavily scented products while you're breastfeeding. “Try to avoid scented detergents and heavy perfumes, because they can confuse your baby by masking the pheromones that you produce,” says Dr. Tsai. To build his sense of smell, expose him to many scents. Tell him what each smell is and you’ll boost his language development too.
- Description: Eat a variety of foods while breastfeeding. Starting around 6 months, introduce your baby to a variety of foods and flavors, says Nimali Fernando, M.D., coauthor of Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater. This will give him a head start on experiencing the array of tastes found in a healthy diet. Of course, if your family has a history of food allergies or if your baby has eczema, you should talk to your doctor before feeding him any new ingredients.