Babies learn about their world using their senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch), which begin developing in utero. Babies quickly developing senses help them to adjust and adapt to their new world outside the womb. Using their senses, they absorb information at a rapid rate, which develops their cognitive and language skills. During play, babies explore with all of their senses. Below are some thoughts and ideas on increasing your baby’s sensory experience.
A newborn’s vision is blurry when they enter their world, only able to process high contrast hues approximately 10-12 inches away. Their vision rapidly matures from a steady gaze, to focusing on moving objects, to being finely tuned by one year of age. Babies use their eyes to determine shapes, sizes and colors of things within their world. Help develop baby’s vision by looking in mirrors together, reading books together, playing on colorful playmats, and having baby reach for toys instead of giving them to baby. My baby really enjoyed this Baby Einstein Play Gym and floor mirror.
Studies show that newborn’s remember sounds from in the womb including their mother’s voice and songs. Babies use their sense of hearing to determine the cause and effect of sound. Help baby develop his sense of hearing by playing and making music together, reading picture books so that baby begins to associate words and sounds with pictures, making environmental (choo, choo/beep, beep) and animal sounds, introducing lots of different sounds with varying volumes, and talking to baby about their environment. My baby used to scare when I replaced the trash bag in the trashcan. I conditioned him to the sound by letting him touch the bags while I shook them out over and over again in front of him along with smiling and laughing, now he’s good with it. Babies hear, process, and understand information long before they can put it into words, so give them lots to hear! My little man loves to hear music and his Laugh and Learn Puppy.
Babies begin the sense of taste in utero when they start to differentiate flavors within mom’s amniotic fluid. Their sense of taste builds as they are introduced to varying tastes within mom’s breast milk and/or when they begin sampling solids. Babies can differentiate between sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Babies also learn about their world through oral exploration, putting any and everything in their mouths, which allows them to learn about different tastes and textures. Help baby to develop sense of taste by providing a wide variety of foods as soon as baby demonstrates he/she is ready for solids. Create a positive experience with solids by eating with baby, modeling eating behaviors, and providing lots of verbal and visual encouragement when eating such as “yum, yum,” “that’s so good”and lots of smiles and happy facial expressions.
Develop baby’s sense of smell by introducing lots of different fragrances such as flowers, herbs, clean diapers, dirty diapers, coffee, soaps, lotions, and foods underneath baby’s nose. Remember to model smelling with lots of animation and tell baby what he/she is smelling so they can begin to create associations. I always let my baby smell the eucalyptus and lavender Breathe Easy Rub I use on him when he’s stuffy. You will notice that baby will likely gravitate toward more pleasant smells, of course!
Babies love skin-to-skin contact right out of the womb. The sense of touch helps them to feel safe and loved. Touching helps babies to develop the sense of texture, shape, and weight. Babies grab and touch things to learn about them. Help to develop baby’s sense of touch by massaging him/her with lotion after baths, providing different textures for baby to hold and explore (rough, smooth, squishy, soft, crunchy), putting a toy on baby’s head, gently scratching baby’s back/bottoms of feet and brushing baby’s gums/teeth and hair. I massage my baby’s gums with a NUK fingerbrush twice a day to get him used to his mouth being touched for toothbrushing.
As baby matures, they will likely become more picky within their world. A once content baby may suddenly upset with a soiled diaper, yucky taste, foul smell, loud noise, or unfamiliar face. The ability to process and connect their senses results in heightened awareness, which allows baby to make sense of his/her world and develop personal preferences. It’s important to provide your baby with rich sensory experiences at a very early age. Introduce baby to activities that engage multiple senses. Some include, brushing your baby’s head with a soft bristle brush, giving baby a massage with lotion, pouring water over baby’s head, and rubbing baby’s gums with a fingertip brush. Providing sensory experiences such as these early on will allow baby to be more open to building on new sensory experiences with less reluctancy. Using their senses, babies learn new information about their world, which they store in their memory bank to learn and build new information upon. Therefore, the more sensory experiences we expose them to, the more they learn about their world.
Some children have difficulty with sensory integration resulting in hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) or hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) to sensory input. If your child demonstrates sensory preferences which interfers with their everyday functioning, discuss this with their pediatrician.
Sensory play helps babies develop cognitively and strengthens their language skills. It helps babies to understand language and builds their vocabulary. Below are some examples of how you can incorporate language into your child’s sensory play.
Examples of facilitating language with the sensory experience:
- Sight– Look at the pretty, red flower. See the black and white dog. Where’s your ball?
- Hearing– Hear the train “choo, choo.” The cow says “moo, moo.” Do you hear the music?
- Taste– Yummy apples, yum yum! Your milk is cold. Mango is sweet. The kiwi is sour.
- Smell– Smell mommy’s coffee. Smell the pretty flowers. Shoes stink, shoowee!
- Touch– Pat the dog. The blanket is soft. Daddy’s face is rough. The water is warm.
- The book Pat The Bunny provides a great reading sensory experience!
- Use lots of descriptive and actions words such as big, little, hot, cold, smooth, rough, splish, splash, pour, dance, clap when playing with baby.