What Are Sensory Skills? Their Importance In Child Development

Last Updated on February 4, 2022 by Editorial Team

We interpret the world through our senses. They give us the required information about the physical world and the condition of our body in it. Any activity that utilizes these senses can be considered a sensory activity.

A huge amount of information enters our brain at every instant. Apart from our primary senses; sight, taste, touch, hear, and smell; we use our sense of balance and awareness to know where our body is in the space to explore the world. These senses work together to give us information to form perception and behavior. This perception is what establishes the foundation for higher learning, especially in children.

Inadequate sensory integration could often lead to poor behavior in children. For most of us, sensory integration occurs automatically growing up. Timely intervention with efficient sensory play could help children with learning disorders. Being more proactively sensitive to your children’s sensory integrative functions could help them overcome initial problems and lead a better life[1].

In this article, we will examine the role of sensory skills and their importance in child development. And how sensory play can help children in cognitive growth and social interactions. We will also explore the most effective sensory activities and their nature.

Why are sensory skills important?

Information retention is higher when we engage our senses during a lesson. It’s not a secret how our most vivid memories from the past involve one or more of our senses. Like the mysterious scent of soil after a drizzle. If we try to look behind the scenes, we would find that involving our senses builds strong nerve connections and helps in developing motor skills. These sensations flow into the brain like the ripples in a lake. 

Sensory-based learning comes naturally to children. They explore their world by interacting with it. This is how they build an understanding of objects and people. Compare this to learning in adults where an individual mostly learns from the available facts.

As we grow old, we become more conceptual than perceptual. This is the very reason why we all should help children to build a strong foundation of sensory learning. And encourage them to rely more on their perception than the concepts.

Sensory play promotes learning through curiosity and exploration. It’s a crucial component of child development. But how does that happen?

Trillions of neurons make our brains function by passing the signals through a network of synapses. In the early stages of child development, these synapses grow at a rapid rate. To give you a context, our brain grows from 50 trillion synapses in the first three years to 1000 trillion of them by the time we are adults[2]

This shows how important it is to encourage sensory integration in child development. Especially to ensure that the brain organizes all the stimuli from the physical world so they could move and learn in a productive manner.

 Let’s discuss how we could encourage sensory integration in children through sensory play and what could be their benefits.

What is sensory play, and what are its benefits?

Sensory play is the category of sensory activities that focuses on stimulating children’s primary senses. At the time of selecting sensory play we primarily focus on more accessible senses; touch, sight and hearing. Most of these activities focus on giving an experience to the children that could also stimulate the other senses.

Sensory play strengthens sensory-related functions and synapses. We have another concept called experience-based neuroplasticity which explains how synapses help us communicate the sensory stimuli in our brain through life experiences. The concept helps us understand how our brains sort, order and locate sensations, pretty much like how the traffic light officer directs the moving traffic. When these sensations are systematically organized, our brains can use that information to form a reaction. 

Sensory play is useful for children of all age groups. However, they are most important during the early years of growth. Science-based studies have proven that the children who go through sensory-based play, show more growth and development in early childhood, which helps them acquire more practical skills across the domain[3]

Since sensory play is usually wrapped in a casual gaming format, it makes these activities such an effective tool in learning. Why is that?

Playing, irrespective of being sensory-centered or not is a very effective tool in child development. Playing makes children creative. They learn the social rules. Build their linguistic framework. And most importantly, the play brings them closer to developing emotional skills.

Consistently bringing children to sensory-centered learning is imperative for healthy development.

Now the question is how do we decide which sensory activities are more efficient. And since most sensory activities are age-specific, how do we decide which ones are the best for your children.

Let’s try to answer those questions.

Activities involving sensory skills

Almost any activity could turn into sensory play. You are only limited by your imagination. People often associate picking things and feeling them with sensory play. However, it is so much more than touch and feel.

The sensory play could be any activity that involves a child’s primary senses, including their sense of balance and movement.

Having said that, there are a lot of ways we could categorize sensory play. Let’s stick to the most utilitarian way to categorize them. Based on the nature of the activity, we could divide the sensory play into two: energizing and calming. Since every child is unique, parents can decide for themselves if the child needs to be stimulated or relaxed.

Let’s take some examples of sensory-centric energizing and calming activities for different age groups. Let’s start with toddlers.

1. Sensory activities for toddlers:

  • Torchlight (Energizing activity): Playing with torchlight and observing shadows and light of different shapes and sizes.
  • Fingerpainting (Calming activity): Mixing colours on a canvas with fingers or a sponge.

2. Sensory activities for babies:

  • Bubble game (Calming activity): Blowing bubbles and letting the baby feel them land on their skin. Play with different sizes of bubbles and track their location.
  • Colour paper folding (Energizing activity): Fold colour papers into different shapes and feel the contours. Crunching papers and hearing the noise. Throwing the papers at different spots.

3. Sensory activities for preschoolers:

  • Music instrument (Energizing activity): Let them play a music player and make them listen to the different tones and pitch of the sound as they blow the instrument.
  • Kinetic sand (Calming activity): Drawing different shapes on the sand. And letting them manipulate it.


Apart from being interesting and fun, sensory activities could help children investigate and explore their immediate surroundings. If done right, it could help children become more perceptual, which in consequence would make them more mindful. These children would be able to block out the noise and focus more on the activity at hand than the surrounding distractions.

We understand that early sensory play is more about building a strong base for higher learning. This could be truly beneficial for children with Autism and ADHD and other similar learning disorders[4]. We could see the trend of high-quality early learning becoming more affordable. We believe that quality sensory play should be encouraged both at home and in other learning environments.


  1. Ayres, A. J., and J. Robbins. “Sensory integration and the child: Understanding hidden sensory challenges.” Western Psychological Services, vol. 1, no. 4, 2005, p. 3.
  2. Gauvain, M., and M. Cole. “Readings on the Development of Children.” vol. 5th ed, 2018.
  3. Hunter, Debra. “What Happens When a Child Plays at the Sensory Table?” YC Young Children, 2008, p. 1.
  4. Yochman, A., et al. “Responses of preschool children with and without ADHD to sensory events in daily life.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy, pp. 294-302.

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