Sensory Development: Ideas to help your little one grow

Posted by Joy Hart on

By Leah Eagle

Chances are you’ve heard the term sensory development, but how much do you know about it? Here’s some information to explain more on just what it means.

In general, sensory development refers to the maturing of the five senses: hearing, smell, taste, touch, and vision. According to abilitypath.org, it also involves the way your baby’s nervous system receives input from these senses and then forms an appropriate motor or behavioral response- which is known as sensory processing.

From the moment your child is born, they are constantly using their senses to explore and understand their surroundings. Sensory development strengthens the use of their senses by combining different colors, textures, noises and more.

As a parent, it’s important to understand how your child’s sensory systems develop. Here are changes you can look for as they grow:

  • Hear: Although their hearing is well developed at birth, newborns cannot hear certain quiet sounds. Around 3 months, they will begin to turn their head toward sounds they hear and by 4 to 8 months, babies can hear the full range of sound frequencies.
  • Smell: Newborns have a sharp sense of smell, enough so that they can differentiate the smell of their mother’s milk from others. It won’t be until around age 5 that your child can identify some foods by smell.
  • Taste: A newborn can distinguish between sweet, salty, sour, and bitter tastes. Your baby will have full sensitivity to taste around 12 to 18 months.
  • Touch: This includes all of the physical sensations that can be felt through your baby’s skin. At birth (or shortly after), your baby can tell the difference between hot and cold temperatures and also feel pain. Between 1 to 9 months, babies can notice different textures with their hands and mouth.
  • Sight: Newborns can focus on objects about 8 to 15 inches away. By one month, they can see about three feet away. At birth, a baby's color vision is limited, but by two months, they can tell the difference between basic colors. Between 4 and 7 months old, babies will have full color vision.

Sensory Play
As your baby grows, they will develop different skills through sensory play, including language skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills and cognitive growth.

Examples of these include: learning different ways to communicate emotions, wants and needs; their ability to use small muscle groups and coordinate movements; sitting, crawling, jumping and running and problem solving skills.

Sensory play focuses on activities that engage your child's senses and helps them develop language skills and motor skills. It also helps build nerve connections in their brain’s pathways, which can help your child complete complex tasks.

Helping with sensory development at home

There are many games and activities that stimulate your child’s senses that you can play with them to promote their sensory development.

1. Sensory bins

Fill a plastic tub or large container with different objects like water, cotton balls, buttons, dried rice or pasta. Add in small toy shovels or spoons, small toys or figurines to encourage imaginative play. (Make sure the items aren’t choking hazards and keep an eye on your child when using smaller items!)

2. Finger painting

With infants, help paint their hands and feet with a soft brush and then make prints on a piece of paper. For older babies, set up an area with paper and finger paints or brushes. Playdough or slime can work too!

3. Playing outside

Outdoor activities provide many benefits for kids including: strengthening motor skills, improving overall health and muscle strength, encouraging independence and allowing the use of creativity and imagination. Plus, they get to learn all about nature!

Whether playing in the sandbox, running around or swinging or sliding — these are all forms of sensory play.

4. Bath Time

While getting clean, babies and kids can also enjoy bubbles, rubber ducks and other bath toys for a sensory experience.

Here are some ways to promote sensory development with your baby at different ages and stages throughout their first year:

Birth to 3 months

  • Hang a mobile above their crib for visual stimulation.
  • Encourage your baby to hold or shake a rattle or something that makes a sound
  • Play or sing songs with your baby to help with their listening skills.


3 to 6 months

  • Introduce tummy time
  • When holding them, face them outward to see the world around them
  • Play in different positions to help develop their sense of movement and balance
  • Play peek-a-boo with them

6 to 9 months

  • Show them how to turns pages of a board book
  • Encourage crawling by placing objects for them to reach
  • Begin to offer baby food, including fruits and vegetables
  • Let them explore on a play mat or bouncer
  • Play with stacking toys and items with different sizes and textures

9 to 12 months

  • Give them toys that require gripping and finger movement to encourage hand and finger control.
  • Offer new foods and snacks
  • Hold both hands to encourage walking
  • Let them do certain things independently


Sensory development and focus can also be enhanced by contrasting visual patterns and textures for little ones. Did you know black and white images can even help stimulate the development of the optic nerves?

Olli+Lime's monochrome designs can help create a perfect modern nursery, while promoting a multi-sensory experience. We also have new products available to bring pops of color into your nursery. We make it easy to make your modern, multi-sensory nursery completely and truly yours.