Children's Sensory Development

Your child's sensory development is a pivotal factor in leading a healthy, happy life. Sensory development refers to the development of the five senses: taste, touch, sight, smell and sound. She encounters the five senses on a daily basis, all working to enhance the way she perceives the world. The senses begin development during gestation, and some are nearly completely developed by birth.


A human being will rely on his sense of smell more during his infancy than at any other time in his life. A newborn can recognize her mother's smell and the scent of her breast milk. While the sense of smell is particularly acute at birth, it continues to develop during childhood. By around age 5, a child can start identifying food and other items based on smell.


Although two distinct senses, taste and smell are closely related. Smell, for example, plays into how an item tastes because the taste buds recognize only four categories: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. When the olfactory system is over-stimulated, your infant may show a disinterest in feeding. Taste is functional during the third trimester with taste buds beginning to develop only eight weeks after conception. Newborns react to bitter, sour and sweet tastes, and develop a reaction to salty tastes around 4 months old. During gestation, a fetus can taste the differences in the amniotic fluid which can vary with the mother's diet. A fetus may develop taste preferences based on the amniotic fluid and prenatal development 1.


The eyes begin to develop around the first month of gestation and are open by the seventh month. Unlike taste and smell which are acute at birth, a newborn's vision is extremely poor and vision continues to develop postnatally. The visual cortex is among the last parts to fully develop, meaning your infant develops spatial relationships, her visual memory and visual motor coordination after birth.


Your infant's sense of hearing is fairly well developed at birth, although he can't hear certain sounds. Once she reaches about 3 months old, your baby will start turning her head toward sound to investigate. Hearing peaks around 6 months old, and your baby will start hearing the full range of sounds between 4 and 8 months old. Infants quickly learn to identify their mother's voice and can match voices with faces.


The sense of touch is primarily developed at birth. "Touch" refers to a wide range of sensations felt through the skin. These include temperature, pain and pressure. Newborns feel the sensations of pain, and hot and cold through the nerves in their skin. Unsurprisingly, a baby's mouth and hands are most sensitive to the sense of touch. Babies up to about 9 months old learn touch and texture by grabbing things or placing items in their mouths. After this age, they learn textures, shape, size and other distinguishing characteristics of items through touch.