Sensory Development

BC Witney March 2012 005


Research supports the theory that infants are capable of making sense of the world from birth. We are beginning to discover that babies are born with many abilities that help them begin to organise their world almost immediately. The basis for learning in infants is the sensory systems of touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight.  We, as caregivers, need to provide an enriched environment that uses abilities that children already have and enhances those that are emerging.

The senses of taste, smell, touch, and hearing are well-developed at birth and can be used as a foundation for supporting learning,


The sense of taste actually begins to develop pre-natally. Taste buds emerge at around 7 to 8 weeks’ gestation, and the amniotic fluid is rich with different taste experiences


The sense of smell is also well-developed at birth. As with tastes, the amniotic fluid is rich with smells. Within hours after birth, babies respond much like adults to a variety of odours. They prefer the smell of a lactating woman over a non-lactating woman and they prefer the smell of their mother to the smell of other women. The sense of smell is something that infants continue to use throughout infancy.


Touch is a very important sense that has been found to affect parent-infant attachment, cognitive development, sociability, ability to withstand stress, and immunological development. Touch and massage therapies for infants have emerged as a popular method of enhancing growth and development, reducing pain, and increasing attentiveness. Infants are born with a fairly well-developed sense of touch. For example, they respond to pain in similar ways as adults. Touching infants can have both positive and negative effects on development, depending on the type of touch.


Apparently, it was originally believed that infants were born deaf! We now know that infants have a fairly well-developed sense of hearing at birth. In fact, recent research findings indicate that infants are hearing and learning about the world in utero. In fact, infants are born with a preference for their mother’s voice. Infant hearing is not as refined as adult hearing, but hearing does develop rapidly throughout the period of infancy.


Vision is the least developed sense at birth. Vision, like hearing, develops rapidly over the early years. Infants are essentially born legally blind, but do have some visual preferences that lay an important foundation. Infants are born with a preference for looking at light/dark contrasts.  The human face is endowed with such contrasts. The hairline, eyes, and mouth provide such a contrast. Research shows that these are favourite areas of focus for infants.


Caregivers need to help stimulate the development of their baby’s vision. Fortunately, many forms of stimulation can be found in our everyday environment. However, we can also enhance the environment by increasing our own awareness. To enhance sensory development, we need to do the following:

  • Provide a safe environment for exploration
  • Provide materials that infants can explore, using all their senses
  • Call the infant’s attention to stimuli in the environment
  • Provide frequent opportunities for social interaction
  • Provide a variety of stimulation, including toys and environments (get out and about)
  • Put pictures and mirrors on the walls and floors
  • Move infants around the room during the day
  • Be aware of sensory overload
  • Remove items when infants lose interest

Remember, awareness and responsive caregiving are critical in supporting sensory development.

Come learn more about your baby’s sensory development and ideas to stimulate the senses in our weekly classes. Find out more at



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