Importance of Sensory in Early Childhood Education

Whether you are working with infants, toddlers or preschool age children, sensory experiences are very important to include in your program.

What Does It Do for the Children?

For young children, the senses are crucial in learning. During early childhood the senses are developing and children are learning to use their senses in many different ways. Providing young children opportunities to explore with their senses will enhance them and encourage the development of fine and gross motor skills through molding, pouring, lifting and sifting as well as developing a child’s creativity through experimentation with new materials.

The Sense of Touch

Possibly the most important for young children is the sense of touch. This sense helps children make sense of and understand the things around them. In an early childhood setting, there should always be an array of materials for children to explore with their hands.

How Can I Include Sense of Touch Activities?

Fabrics!  The simplest experience would be providing different types of fabrics in all shapes and sizes for little hands to explore.   Fabrics can be an exciting tool for imaginative play, patterning activities and creating a basic texture exploration table.

Outdoor!  If your program has an outdoor area or an area for messy play, a sensory tub filled with cornstarch and water (mix a box of cornstarch and two cups water) will provide a very interesting texture that most children will delight in exploring. While children play, caregivers can talk about how the goop feels, using new vocabulary words and helping children express their sense of touch through language.  Not only are children feeling new textures and using their fine motor skills to squish, pour and scoop but using describing language and talking about the experience with children encourages language development and social skills.

Prefer Less Mess?  Most children enjoy this goopy activity but if you have children who would rather skip the mess, adding plastic containers of different sizes and spoons may entice them to play as well as add practice in scooping and pouring, both important fine motor activities. Another way to have less mess is filling a sensory tub with salt, cornmeal or rice is another sensory play option for strengthening fine motor skills, encouraging language and learning about volume, cause and effect and problem solving skills.

These sense of touch activities are enjoyable for any age. Older children may find these activities more interesting by adding materials to the goop and salt/cornmeal sensory tables, like sifters, funnels, ladels and even small plastic toys to discover.

The Sense of Smell

The sense of smell may not be as exciting to a child as touching and feeling things. Children may be hesitant to sniff new things and some may not even know how to smell things put in front of their noses yet. However, there are several fun activities that will encourage using this sense and are easy to include in any early child care setting.

How Can I Include Sense of Touch Activities?

The easiest is the sniff test activity. You can make the materials prior to setting out the activity or if your children are older you can make the materials together.

  1. Use different extracts like:  Lemon, vanilla, peppermint, orange and banana (just some of my favorites)
  2. Squeeze a few drops of each extract onto a cotton ball and place the cotton ball into either baby water bottles or empty food containers.
  3. Poke holes into the tops of the containers and make sure tops are secure.
  4. Your children can practice using their sense of smell as you discuss what they think the smells are.

*Extracts can be used when making playdoh and flubber to bring the sense of smell to an otherwise touch activity.

The Importance of having sensory experiences in early childhood is not just for the development of many skills but also for the sheer joy in watching young children explore new and interesting materials. Each of the ideas given for the senses is widely open-ended and this will help the children in your care produce their own patterns of exploration. With proper guidance and support, sensory experiences can promote learning and be an incredibly enjoyable experience for teacher and child. 

Finding the Materials:

You can find these materials in many different places, here are a couple of suggestions.

Fabrics: or JoAnns REMNANTS section.

JoAnns Remnants section sells a variety of fabrics for much cheaper than if you were to buy a yard of something. Summer has even used these remnants to make a texture quilt for infants to crawl over and explore. 

Extract: cornstarch and extracts can all be bought at your local grocery store



Samantha Marshall, M.A.

Samantha is, just like you, excited to make a difference in our community and our world. With a Master of Arts degree in English Literature, you might ask how she found herself building and writing for a website focused on child care. From 1995 through 2001, Samantha started her career working for Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) sponsors which introduced her to the importance of non-profits, community and quality child care. Her experience with Sponsors, State Officials, and Family Child Care Providers left a great and lasting impression. Later in her career and her most recent position at SAGE Publications, an academic publisher, was as a product manager for a new online resource! During this time many of Samantha's passions collided. A love for the written word, children and the proliferation of knowledge as well as a fascination with the resources the internet gives us, building a community for child care on is the perfect way to make the difference she wanted to. Needless to say, she is very excited to be an active part of creating and building