Why Sensory and Motor Activity is Essential for Toddler Development

Gone are the days that it is believed children start learning when they go to formal school. Current research and brain scanning indicates that the neurons of the brain develop up to eighty percent of their foundation pathways by six years of age.

This makes the first years of life incredibly important!

Supported by an environment of good nutrition, loving care and sensory and motor activity, learning begins from birth! All baby mammals require these essentials to physically and mentally grow. Motivation comes from both innate traits (nature) and lessons demonstrated by parent animals that also give their babies a lot of time to play (nurture).

The needs of human babies are no different!

Through sensory and motor activity in a prepared environment little humans thrive in two major ways:

1. By absorbing information through the senses of vision, touch, hearing, smell and taste, children tune into their environment and make sense of what is in the world around them.

2. By manipulating objects with fine motor skills (the small muscles of the hand) and engaging their gross muscles through action, this assists in increasing strength, stamina and coordination particularly of the core, limbs and hands.

Children should move freely as much as possible. Natural posture and movement should not be restricted by modern parenting aids, such as those that force children to sit in unnatural positions before they are biologically ready. These are simple assistors to parents but unfortunately they don’t provide what’s best for children.

Engaging in sensory and motor activity causes the nerves of the human body to transmit impulses along the nerve pathways that connect the senses and the muscles to the brain. This in turn builds neurons and lays the foundation of the mind. Along with an innate ability to self-explore and absorb information from the prepared environment little humans become in charge of their own development.

There is some natural physiological pruning that is done by the brain after this intense period of neural growth. This results in the foundation of the brain being set. The intensity of this pattern of growth and trimming is not repeated during any other period of human life.

Remember this?

“Give me the child when he is seven and I will give you the man” (Seven Up Series, 1964).

It’s not a fallacy at all!

When sensory and motor activity is conducted effectively, children also develop a solid neurological foundation for:

  • Attention and concentration that is considered by some psychologists as the most important mode of success for the future of children’s academic life.
  • The development of the eye, that includes visual discrimination – the ability to find something within a group of similar things, as well as training the eye with tracking in preparation for reading.
  • Acquiring language skills such as a vast vocabulary and reciprocal communication.
  • Information processing and problem solving that is termed as the development of cognition.
  • Pre-mathematical skills like the emergence of one to one correspondence (a single item is ‘one’, with another it is ‘two’), object sorting and measuring quantity.
  • Social skills and respect for others.
  • An understanding of ones own emotions brought about through environmental experience.
  • Success with literacy and mathematics, as sensory and motor activity provides many of the pre-requisite skills for academics.

When there is a fault in the neural pathways (commonly termed as a Sensory Processing Disorder), learning can be somewhat challenged and adult intervention may be necessary to enhance the pathways leading to the brain. This may include children who are not as physically strong or coordinated, have decreased language and communication skills, may be more limited with social and emotional maturation and less ready to pursue academia. Intervention that occurs as early as possible is a terrific support for children who require the enhancement of the neural pathways for future success.

To engage children in Sensory Motor activity, this is best achieved through life skills such as caring for ones self and the environment in which children learn, practicing these skills everyday and through functional play. For more information and beautiful imagery consult The Parenting 5 series.

This was an extract from the new book The Parenting 5 – Sensory Motor Play for Little People written by Ruth Barker of Toddler Education Services. This book is the second of The Parenting 5 series and follows the successful The Parenting 5 – Practical and Independent Little People that was released in October 2013. For more information on Ruth Barker or to purchase a copy of either book for yourself visit: Both books are available in paperback or e book.

Free Seminars for Parents of Preschoolers


Monday 16 June and Monday 23 June 9 am

Walkerville Citizen of the Year and author of The Parenting 5 Series, Ruth Barker, will hold two free seminars for parents of preschoolers at Walkerville Library. Topics will include preparing the home environment for the successful development of the preschool child and how harmony can be brought to the household of the busy modern family.

Registrations essential on 8342 7150 or email

Avatar of Ruth Barker

Ruth Barker is a passionate advocate for early childhood development. After studying Child and Family Studies at University, Ruth went on to complete a Diploma of Montessori (Pre-school). She is a Director/Consultant/Author/Columnist and an Educator at her business Toddler Education Services Pty Ltd / Montessori 1:1

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