Professional Childcare Software
(800) 824-7741

What Are Sensory and Motor Skills and How Can I Help Develop Them in My Child?

Sensory and motor development are two very crucial and pivotal developments in a child’s life and concurrently aid in the individual’s growth and learning. According to HealthLink BC, sensory and motor development are a gradual process wherein a child learns how to use and coordinate large muscles in the body, such as the legs, trunk, and arms, and one system simply cannot function without the other. A child gains various sensory awareness through sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing, and building a solid sensory and motor foundation is critical before advancing to higher learning. 

Motor Skills

Of course, children grow very rapidly during the first five years of their life. Motor development refers to the process of physical growth and gaining strength in a child’s bones, muscles, and moving to touch their surroundings. Development is categorized in two ways: fine motor and gross motor skills, and examples of this include:

  • Muscle tone, strength, and coordination
  • Rhythm and timing
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Gross and fine-motor skills
  • Primitive and postural reflexes
  • Eye-muscle balance and coordination
  • Vestibular balance and posture

Sensory Skills 

As the name implies, sensory development refers to the process in which a child’s senses mature. This maturation recruits the help of the nervous system and the way a child receives, organizes, understands, and responds to stimuli from the environment with an appropriate movement or behavior. As with motor skills, it is important to monitor a child’s development as they grow older to see if they are progressing appropriately for their age. The five senses are as listed below:

  • Smell
  • Touch
  • Vestibular (inner ear)
  • Proprioception (the ability to know where one’s body is in space)
  • Balance and spatial perception

There are many ways to activate a child’s motor and sensory skills simultaneously, but here are a few suggestions/ideas: 

  • Placing your baby on his/her tummy and assisting them in reaching for a toy.
  • Putting a toy on the couch for your child to reach toward when he/she starts to stand.
  • Encouraging walking with a stroller or toy your child can push to simulate walking on their own.
  • Visiting playgrounds, where your child can climb, swing and slide.
  • Make use of stimulating textures and objects: play with ice cubes in a bag, or play with whipped cream.
  • Pet an animal, cuddle, or parade around the house together. 
  • Engage the musical side: play an instrument (empty containers make great drums!) or sing songs. 
  • Experiment with opposites such as salty versus sweet, crunchy versus soft, or frozen versus hot foods. 
  • Explore colors by tie-dying a t-shirt or face painting. 

Development Comes Down to Effort 

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list and there’s an infinite number of ways to support your child’s sensory and motor development. Generally, this comes down to engaging with your child in meaningful ways and exposing them to new things gradually. Be sure to track progress and celebrate milestones! 

[Photo Credits: Unsplash. Bernard Hermant, Ryan Fields, Gautam Arora.]