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Learning Through the Senses

Dear Elizabeth,
My 3-year-old daughter has a lot of textured books and seems to really enjoy them. Are they teaching her something that “regular” books aren’t?
Carolyn Robbins
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Provide first-hand, sensory-rich experiences
  • Encourage self-directed exploration & play with sensory materials
  • Be patient
Expert Advice
Susan Baxter
Susan Baxter
Early education instructor
We are born with two essential skills in life: our reflexes and our senses. This means that initially children learn about their world though their senses. It is through our sensory experiences that we develop much of our brain in the early years.

The great thing is that three-year-olds do not need to be encouraged to engage in sensory experiences, they will naturally do this. Provide an environment that offers a variety of sensory opportunities so that your child will naturally come to explore. Remember, the best way to know what a child needs is to watch what interests her and follow her lead.

The Importance of Using All Five Senses
We learn about the world through our senses and create relationships with our environment; smells, touch, taste, and so on. This is on all levels—physical, in our thinking, emotions and creative life. Therefore, children need to grow up in a world that is beautiful to look at, smell, and hear. Touch is not just about the feel of smooth and rough, it can also communicate how we feel about our child. How we touch them, softly or roughly, communicates to them how we feel about them, so we want to be really aware of how we interact with children through our actions words and so on.

Each parent has their own comfort level, but remember that “messy” play is an important part of sensory exploration. I would highlight the experience by saying, “Wow, look what happens when it rains in the garden! What could we do to clean the mud?” Or you can say, “Banana’s get so mushy when we squish them with our hands.” If messy play is difficult for parents, try to minimize clean up by dressing your child in play clothes.
Child Care Provider Comments
Teena Martin
Teena Martin
Mother of 3-year-old
My son loves bubbles! He thinks they are the best thing in the world. He can do body movements with the big bubble wands. He’s learning about the weather. He knows that the bubbles will blow in the direction the wind is blowing. He has also learned that the bubbles can hurt your eyes if you aren’t careful. If you spill the liquid, you can slip.
Cathy Agnew
Cathy Agnew
Cares for her grandchildren, mother of two
My granddaughter and I like to play in the water while we’re washing dishes. We use play dough, slime, and bubbles. She likes to feel and experiment with all of these. She’s learned that play dough can be molded into other shapes, and that it takes a certain amount of force to do it. She’s observed that bubbles pop and that slime feels slippery.
Karolina Ramirez
Karolina Ramirez
Child care provider for 6 years
For taste, we always get the children to try different foods. We use a lot of seasonal fruits and vegetables so that they can feel the different textures. We let them take the seeds out of the pumpkins. They may play with hard corn (colored) vs yellow corn with the green leaves and hairs. This gives them the opportunity to touch different types of corn. I have kids smell it before they taste it because it encourages them to use their nose.

Pretend Car Wash Featured Activity:
Pretend Car Wash
Learning Through the Senses Featured Video:
Learning Through the Senses
Topic: Child Development
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