Why do I talk about sensory processing ALL THE TIME??? Well there is a very important and valid reason. Every moment of everyday we are all experiencing sensory stimulation, processing that information, and outputting a response. We do this with ease and not even noticing, this is because our sensory systems have developed and are operating well. Children's sensory systems are still developing just as their language, social, physical, emotional, and cognitive skills. But what is not commonly known, is none of those skills can develop if their sensory systems are not developing properly. Our sensory systems help us to learn about our world, and allow us to cope and thrive everyday. I didn't just read this in a book, I have lived this. Our son, as many of you know has many sensory needs and we have made countless accommodations in our home and learning environments. He was in constant flight or fight mode from all the incoming sensory stimuli and his body was not able to process it well, or it was too much sensory stimuli. This meant he expressed many challenging behaviours but the biggest impact was, he wasn't learning and developing. He spent his whole day in distress because he didn't feel safe in his own world. This also affected his sleep, and therefore the cycle continued because bad sleep deeply affects your ability to function each day.
We all know how infants learn a lot through their sensory systems at this young age. But that doesn't mean this stops once they become a toddler! Their sensory systems continue to develop and I think we need to be putting more effort into this development. There seems to be a switch from infants and sensory play to language and cognitive development for toddlers and preschoolers. But this is also the time when many educators begin to notice challenging behaviours such as pushing, hitting, screaming, biting, constant moving, and not listening. Many may attribute this to language development, social-emotional skills, or testing boundaries. Yes toddlers are continually learning new words and beginning to recognize their emotions, but all of these experiences continue to be processed through their bodies in their sensory systems.
Many programs focus on the 5 senses once a year, and tie in the other domains into their programming. By only looking at the senses once a year, we are really doing the children in our programs a disservice, and contributing to the problem as well. Sensory processing occurs in our bodies 24/7 and needs to be apart of our everyday programs, environments, and interactions. I have been wondering what may happen with children's development if sensory processing was a domain just as the other 5 domains we learn about in school. Or even better, what if sensory processing was considered when planning for the other domains. Making sure that each planned activity or learning centre was created with not only with the 5 domains, but also how these experiences affect and support children's developing sensory systems. Taking into account textures, sounds, smells, tastes, movement, and internal sensations (such as temperature, heart rate, emotions) when planning our environments both inside and out, materials on shelfs, our interactions with the children all need to be considered.
“Sensory experiences are so powerful they can rewire the brain. These sensory experiences can help children understand their environments more clearly, make them feel safe. Or the experiences can be overwhelming, causing children to become defensive and withdrawn.”
Abraham, D., 2015, pg 3
If we planned for children's sensory systems we would see changes in their language, social skills, emotional regulation, cognitive abilities, physical development, but most importantly in our interactions as well. We begin to see the children's needs from a true holistic view and take all aspects of their development when communicating, planning, and playing with the children.
I am an Early Childhood Consultant and very passionate about supporting and inspiring my fellow Educators. I will share my reflections and experiences about implementing my philosophy, views, and ideas into my practice.