Your child begins to learn about the world around him from the moment he is born through the development and use of his five senses. Absorbing information from the environment is the child's key component to adapting to human life. Our senses teach us about our surroundings and help to form our initial experiences in life. By the preschool years, your child will most likely reach specific sensory milestones and show keen enthusiasm for identifying differences in his sensory observations.
A child's sensory and gross motor development are closely connected, as the development of the senses is directly related to a child's physical interaction with the environment. According to WedMD, children who are 2 years old should be able to walk up stairs one at a time and draw simple strokes with a crayon. By age 5, children should be able to dress and undress themselves and write some lowercase and some uppercase letters. Pediatrician John Pope outlines sensory milestones most children will reach by age 3, including the ability to build a three- to four-piece puzzle, sort objects by shape and color, build a tower of six blocks, screw and unscrew lids, copy a circle and use a cup, fork and spoon easily.
Stimulating the Senses
Early childhood educators stress the significance of incorporating sensory play into preschool curricula. Early childhood expert Suzanne Gainsley postulates that sensory play is directly connected to a child's brain development. Stimulating the senses sends signals to the brain that bolster neural connections. A multitude of early childhood education methods emphasize the importance of allowing children to learn through active, hands-on sensory experiences. The Montessori approach, in particular, organizes an entire area of the preschool classroom specifically for the development of the senses with materials that isolate each sense. In this respect, children are able to delve deeper into the strengthening of each sense as individual tools for growth.
In the Home
Since your preschooler's senses continue to develop throughout this phase of growth, be sure to provide ample opportunities for exercising use of the senses. Puzzles, shape-sorting boxes and simple matching activities are all useful for sensory development. Allow your preschooler to help prepare meals and expose him to different smells and tastes through various foods and ingredients for cooking. Provide tactile experiences for your child such as bubbles in his bath or a small sandbox outside. Playing with shaving cream is also a fun way for preschoolers to experience a different tactile sensation. Listen to music and teach your child to identify different sounds in nature as ways to develop and refine his hearing skills.
Your preschooler is undergoing a magnitude of developmental changes from age 2 to 5. At this age, it is possible to observe signs of sensory processing disorder -- or SPD -- a neurological disorder that creates difficulties with absorbing, processing and responding to sensory information from one's surroundings and from within one's own body. According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, signs that a child may be struggling with SPD during the preschool years include trouble with toilet-training, acute sensitivity to stimulation, a strong dislike of touch, noises and smells, unawareness of being touched except through extreme actions like pushing or hitting, poor coordination, being in constant motion, always getting into everyone's space, sudden mood changes, unclear speech and inability to understand verbal instructions. If you notice that your child displays a lot of these signs on a regular basis, consult with his pediatrician to determine a plan of action.