Sensory Motor Skills

Sensory motor skills. This is one of those terms that gets thrown around A LOT. Especially when it comes to development in early childhood! But what exactly are sensory motor skills? And why does this term keep coming up?

Basically, sensory motor skills are all the activities and movements that prepare the body to learn, especially when it comes to infants who learn primarily through their five senses of touch, taste, sight, hearing and smell.

To further define this we can split up the sensory skills and the motor skills. Sensory skills are the five senses listed above as well as the vestibular sense (this concerns balance and information about one’s own position in space) and proprioception (this is just a fancy term for feedback from the muscles and joints to the brain about movements).

Alternatively, motor skills refer more broadly to muscle movements, both fine and gross. These include crawling ,walking, running, writing, and even the facial muscle movements required for speech.

Now to put sensory and motor skills together, sensory motor skills include:

  • The Body in Space: knowing our location in space is important for coordination. Visual motor skills are essential in regards to this and also assist with things like learning how to write because you need to see where you are in relation to things around you in order to move in space, even when it comes to pen and paper.
  • Laterality: laterality is the ability to cross the right side of the body to the left and the left side to the right. This is also referred to crossing the midline. Development of this skills requires a great deal of sensory inputs to the brain and is incredibly important for coordinated movements in later years.
  • Balance: This is that vestibular sense that we talked about earlier. It mostly takes place through the movement of fluid in the inner ear. Development of balance is dependent on practice of motor skills.
  • Centering: this is the ability to not only cross the midline like in laterality but to do this from top to bottom, while executing other gross motor movements. This is important for fluid movement throughout.

So why is it important to know this information? Well as parents and early childhood educators it is key that we promote development of these skills. And we can do this a number of ways including encouraging movements that use both sides of the body, providing active play that requires movement and motor experimentation, and providing activities that are sensory stimulating with lots of texture, colour, or sound.