University of Edinburgh

Sensory Play and Learning

Presented on Friday, 11 March 2011

Exploring the Senses

Judy Denziloe

We tend to talk about the Five Senses - vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell. These are only the main senses; there are many more - Flo Longhorn reckons there are about 70!


If our vision is not impaired, we receive 80% of the information about the world around us through the visual channel. Vision is the integrating, coordinating sense, helping us to understand all the information we are receiving through our senses.


We use our hearing for stimulation and learning. It is often the sense that keeps us safe - we hear someone shout a warning, or we hear the sound of a car that is outside our field of vision.


Individual responses to different textures or different levels of vibration vary widely. Some children are tactile defensive - the palm of the hand is a very sensitive area. Being tactile defensive will limit the child's opportunities to learn from new experiences and may be a safety issue - there are times when we need to grab a child's hand to stop them running into the raod, for example.


The sense of smell is the quickest message to reach the brain. Smell is the sense that works on our emotions and has a strong link to memory. Everyont has a bank of smell memories and we need to be aware that strong emotions may be triggered by a smell.

The sense of smell is weakest first thing in the morning, so it is best to do smell work later on in the day. The nose gets tired very quickly - don't use more than four smells during a session, and always start with the weakest smell first.


There is a strong link between smell and taste - as anyone who has had a heavy cold will know!

Babies use their mouths to feel as well as taste their world. Some children may continue to mouth objects when they are much older and we need to bear this in mind when planning an activity. For example, if we are going to give a hand massage to someone who mouths their hands, it will be better to use olive oil rather than hand lotion of mixtures of oils.

When planning taste work we must give consideration to possible allergies, cultural and other dietary considerations. Taste work should be done in the context of shopping, cooking and eating.

Kinaesthetic sense

This is awareness of our body movement through space - on a swing or rocking horse for example.

Vestibular sense

This is the sense of balance and equilibrium, responsible for maintaining balance and detecting movement within the body. If a child is poorly positioned, they will be less able to concentrate on an activity.


This is about inner awareness of our joints and muscles; the sense responsible for how and where our bodies are moving. The use of heavier objects or weighted blankes increases propioceptive feedback.

Sense of wonder and magic

Beautiful or unfamiliar objects or sensations can prompt interaction and shared enjoyment.