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How exercise and physical development can impact sensory development

In terms of development there is an extremely strong link between sensory input and motor output; our senses and how we respond physically. When there is an increased opportunity for one of the two incidentally the other will increase. Sensory input = motor output. For example, by incorporating a ball or balloon play will encourage a child to explore their surrounds and move toward or away from the ball and manoeuvre their body and space to roll, throw, catch, chase, or bounce the object. This is why all baby toys make noise! It is a sensory grab to encourage the baby and as the baby moves to investigate the object, they will get more and more opportunity to explore their senses.

The sensory system comprises of:

  1. Sight

  2. Hearing

  3. Smell

  4. Taste

  5. Touch

  6. Vestibular & Proprioceptive Systems

The sensory system is responsible for receiving all external information, processing it, and planning action. Receptors in our senses (i.e., eyes, ears, and joints etc.) send messages to the brain to then engage muscles to act or react. Exercise of many varieties including not limited to body weight exercises such as Pilates, obstacle courses, and play equipment will provide the sensory system with sufficient deep pressure input to their muscles, and joints to prepare them for activities for learning such as sitting at a desk and reading and writing.

With movement and motor planning there are two critical parts of our sensory system, the vestibular system, and the proprioceptive system. Our vestibular system, which senses our body position in space against gravity is responsible for our balance, movement, and our proprioceptive system which is responsible for our sense of body position and controls our ability to move limbs without looking.

This connection between sensory input and motor output can be seen from birth, when a baby moves their face towards their mother’s voice, smell or touch and this link continues to grow as children develop. Sensory motor experiences become functional abilities to explore, engage and learn. It is instinctive.

A child’s development is similar to building blocks. When they can do one thing autonomously their brain can then focus on a new task and so on. Therefore, incorporating exercise in from an early age is so vital for their learning and development as if they do not have the core strength to sit, they will not be able to focus on any other tasks. Core strength is the first step in several areas of development.

A few of my favourite ways to promote the sensory systems through movement.
  1. Shoe free play

  2. Balancing games & exercises

  3. Obstacle courses

  4. Water play

  5. Musical chairs

  6. Ball sports

We currently have a group of 1-2yr old at one of our centres and we have found that including ball plan, obstacle courses, and using toy cars to roll out along our legs as we stretch helps them focus and move effectively. The learning for children at this age is all about sensory and we see firsthand just how much movement can bolster this development.

Incorporating sensory grabs through balls, balance, music, and shoe free play outside is giving these children an opportunity to explore their senses and how their body moves. If our goal is to increase movement, we cannot omit sensory activities and vice versa. Bolstering one will dramatically impact the other.


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