Describe sensory development in the first year of life

Qualification: NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma for the Early Years Educator
Unit: Unit 3.9: Facilitate the cognitive development of children
Learning outcome: Understand about cognitive development in children
Assessment criteria: Describe sensory development in the first year of life


Understanding how infants learn and develop is essential to providing them with the best care. Sensory development, in particular, is a critical factor in infant growth and learning. In the first year of life, infants experience a rapid period of sensory development that helps them explore their environment and interact with those around them. Let’s take a closer look at what this looks like.

Types of Sensory Development

Sensory development in infants includes five different types: visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory. Visual development refers to the ability to see shapes, colors, patterns, size differences, body language, facial expressions and movements; auditory includes recognizing sounds from certain distances; tactile includes touching surfaces with different textures; olfactory involves recognizing smells; and gustatory involves tasting different flavors. All of these senses play an important role in helping infants learn about their environment during the first year of life.


Visual Development

In their first months of life, babies are still developing their vision capabilities—but they can still focus on objects up to 10 inches away! As they get older (around 3-4 months), they’ll start following people or objects with their eyes as they move across their field of view. Around 6-7 months old is when babies start recognizing familiar faces such as mom and dad—and they usually express a positive reaction when they do! By 8-9 months old most babies will be able to recognize colors and patterns too.

Auditory Development

Babies begin hearing sounds in utero—by 4 weeks postpartum they’ll respond to loud noises by opening their eyes wide or turning their heads towards the sound source. Around 2-3 months old babies will recognize familiar voices such as mom’s or dad’s—and by 5-6 months old they should be able to distinguish between similar sounding words like “cat” and “bat” based solely on intonation or accentuation of syllables within each word.
By 12 months old most babies will be able to identify common sounds like animals or musical instruments too!



Infants undergo an incredible amount of sensory development during the first year of life—and it all starts from birth! From recognizing familiar faces and distinguishing between similar sounding words at a few months old to identifying colors and patterns at 8-9 months old—babies go through an impressive amount of visual and auditory growth before even reaching 1 year old! Understanding how infants learn through all five senses is essential for providing them with the highest quality care possible.

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