Sensory & Perceptual Development

Sensory and perceptual development are scaffolded ideas.  Sensation is an interaction with receptors; perception is the interpretation of that sensation (Santrock, 2013, pp 157).  The ecological view would suggest that the two concepts are interdependent: that ‘we directly perceive information that exists in the world around us’, which in turn provides opportunities for our interaction.


The first of Piaget’s child development stages is sensorimotor (birth to 2 years).  It is during this timeframe that infants construct an understanding (perception) of the world by coordinating sensory experiences with motor actions.  Taking an empirical approach, Piaget would suggest that this construction relies heavily on the prior development of cognitive stages (Santrock, 2013, pp 165).


Proponents of sensory play in early childhood development would challenge Piaget’s assertions of distinct cognitive advancements preceding sensory perception.  Quite the opposite, studies suggest that sensory play is a catalyst for cognitive growth.  Steinberg (2015) explains that ‘The most obvious cognitive skills sharpened by sensory play are problem solving and decision making; simply present a child with a problem and various materials with which to find a solution, and you can almost see the connections their brains are making.’  This makes a strong argument for hands-on or problem-based learning within the classroom.

Santrock, J. W., Children (12th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.


Steinberg, D. (2015). Developing & Cultivating Skills Through Sensory Play.  Retrieved February 2, 2016, from

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