Early Childhood Perceptual Development

By Erica Loop
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images

From the soft touch of his blanket to the "vroom" of the vacuum, your child is learning how to perceive and respond to the stimuli around him. Perceptual development crosses different domains, allowing your child to coordinate cognitive, motor and social-emotional skills. During your child's first few years, he will become more sensitive to the sensory information that he experiences in his environment. As he learns to process, organize and respond to this information, his perceptual development will grow and become more complex.

Senses First

During the first year, your baby doesn't have the cognitive, or mental, development to fully understand everything you say to her. Explaining that a dog is fuzzy won't help her grasp the concept that the puppy has soft, fluffy fur. Instead, she needs to use her sense of touch to make the connection. Likewise, during the first 12 months, your baby is using sight to make sense of new information and experiences. For example, she can perceive the differences between you and a stranger by studying facial features. The more she looks at your face, the better able she will become at recognizing emotions. She will begin connecting your smile with happiness and a frown with sadness.

Motor Development

Motor development goes beyond the muscles your young child is building. Perceptual development includes motor and body awareness. As your child's ability to integrate sensory information increases, his perceptual-motor development becomes more complex. For example, your preschooler is developing the ability to understand how his body moves through space. The way in which he senses his own body as well as the motions he's making leads to increased coordination and balance. The process requires him to use multiple senses at one time. As he sees where his body is in space, he is also using his sense of touch to feel the movements.

Category Creation

As perceptual development increases in the early years, your child is gaining the ability to create categories. Categorizing objects allows your child to organize and understand her environment. Researchers conducting a study found that, between 12 and 30 months of age, children are able to categorize objects, according to a 2010 analysis published in "Developmental Psychology." The immature motor development of the younger study participants appeared to have an impact on the ability to perceive and categorize the objects. Without the fine motor skills to truly investigate the objects, the 12-month-olds didn't rely on touch to create categories as much as the older children. As your child grows and builds motor skills, she is better able to explore her surroundings and classify what she sees and feels into groups.

Nature and Nurture

Even though your child is learning through his senses, his perceptual development isn't just a factor of biology. Cultural processes such as your family, community and society can all impact how your child perceives her environment as well as her developmental path. Not only is perceptual development related to cognitive and motor abilities, but it is also affected by social relationships, according to development researcher Adele Diamond, writing in "Developmental Science." The experiences you choose to expose your young child to, how you interact with her and the stimuli that you provide all play roles in how she perceives the world. This, in turn, affects her development in every area, from her movements to her thought processes.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.