Sensory Development

The basis of all learning for babies is their sensory systems of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight. Extensive research has shown that newborn babies can make sense of their world from birth. With each study we are discovering that babies are born with many abilities that help them begin to understand their world almost immediately. Your role, as a caregiver, is to provide an enriched environment that uses the abilities that the babies already have and encourages those that are emerging.


Taste receptors can recognise five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (savoury). Newborns do not like sour flavours and are not able to react to salty tastes yet - this develops around five months.

Taste receptors can recognise five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami (savoury). Newborns do not like sour flavours and are not able to react to salty tastes yet - this develops around five months.


  • Toddlers: you could try letting your them play with a taste treasure basket. Citrus fruits, herbs, soft fruits and some blanched vegetables can be used (never leave your little one alone with the food).  

  • Make homemade edible finger paint using plain yogurt and natural food colourings.


The sense of smell is also well-developed at birth. As with tastes, the amniotic fluid is also rich with smells. Studies have shown that within hours of birth babies respond much like adults to a variety of odours. They prefer the smell of a lactating woman over a non-lactating woman and they prefer the smell of their mother to the smell of other women. The sense of smell is something that infants continue to use throughout infancy.


  • Sensory smell bags: use small organza bags and fill with scented items.

  • Homemade Citrus Play Dough.

  • Older toddlers make supervised smell potions. Great summer garden activity: leaves, petals, grass etc and water.


Babies are born with highly sensitive skin, which has been developing in the womb, which means that their sense of touch is quite well developed at birth. Touch is a very important sense that influences parent-baby attachment, their cognitive development, their social development, their ability to withstand stress and the development of their immune system. Touch and massage classes for infants are encouraged as a popular method of enhancing growth and development, reducing pain, and increasing attentiveness and helping to form and strengthen the carer-baby bond.


  • Daily massage routine with your little babies.

  • For your older toddler this can be changed this to a sitting story back massage. Perhaps encourage your older toddler to massage your shoulders.

  • Hide tactile toys inside boxes and see if they can guess what they are by touch aloneFor babies that can sit a natural treasure basketHomemade pat mats.


Originally it was believed that babies were born deaf. We now know that babies have a quite well-developed sense of hearing at birth. Recent research findings have shown that babies are hearing and learning about the world in utero. It has been found that babies are born with a developed preference for their mother’s voice. A babies hearing is not as good as an adult, but it develops rapidly over the first twelve months.


  • Listening to different pieces of music, or animal sounds or sit in the garden and listen to the sounds of the outside.

  • Make homemade rainmakers or shakers.


Vision is the least developed sense at birth as the womb is a dark place and there is little opportunity for development. Vision, like hearing, does develop rapidly over the early years of a baby’s life. Babies are essentially born legally blind but do have some visual preferences even at birth. There are two types of photoreceptors in the human retina: rods and cones. Rods are responsible for vision at low light levels and consequently are quite well developed at birth. Research has shown that babies are born with a preference for looking at light/dark contrasts and this is why babies love looking at human faces as they provide lots of contrasts such as the hairline, eyes and mouth. These are the favourite areas of focus for babies, so lots of eye contact and face to face time is so important for your baby.

Activities for young babies

  • Provide an environment that is safe for exploration.

  • Provide a variety of stimulation and different environments (gardens, parks, museums etc).

  • Little babies move to different parts of a room or house during the day.

  • Place your baby to sleep at different ends of their cot.

  • Place mirrors and pictures on walls.

Activities for older babies

  • Play hide and seek with a favourite toy.

  • Hide toys in sand pit or play tray.

  • Play simple games of eye spy out in the garden or when our walking.

  • Make homemade colourful sensory bottles.

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