Your Baby: Babies Know More Than You Think
“Sensory Moments” Do More Than You Know”
All of us are born with undeveloped brains. We’ve got one hundred billion brain neurons at birth, but they aren’t connected to anything, yet. We have a primitive brain stem that alerts us to danger but it’s going to take a lot of experiences before our brain cells connect up and make sense of our world. What we do have, fully functioning and completely mature, is our sensory system. We smell, see, hear, taste and feel with our whole bodies, right away. And when we experience a sensation, we factor in this link, and make a new connection between those waiting neurons.
For example, we learn that a certain combination of smells, sights and sounds—the smell of milk, a certain face and voice—means Mom and a pleasant full feeling in the belly. Another combination of sensations such as hearing a deeper sounding voice and feeling a firmer touch computes to Dad. The one seen as continually moving, he turns out to be big brother.
As babies process and integrate sensory information and make more and more connections, they learn about the world, and the brain enlarges.
So what does this mean every day?
Okay. So we get it that the pathways between brain cells are reinforced by what the infant sees, smells, hears, and touches. We understand that as parents we can reinforce these connections through stimulating the senses. It’s not surprising to us when neurological research shows that babies raised in a sensory fertile environment develop brains that are larger and more enriched.
But how can even the best-intended mom fit an “enriching” experience in the fifteen minutes she has between laundry and dishes.
It’s possible. As an occupational therapist working with children for over 40 years, I want to tell you a little trick: Think Sensory Moments. It takes only a moment here and there to give children that extra touch. Just think this: Which of the senses do you want to stimulate for the Sensory Moment?
Say, you want to stimulate your baby’s hearing. Add that element in when you are doing the morning routine of changing diapers or washing her face. Just add sound and sing about what you are doing! Use any tune such as “London Bridges“, but instead of the intended words, describe your actions:
“I’m putting a diaper on you, diaper on you, diaper on you.
I am putting a diaper on you, but first I’m washing your tush.”
“I am washing your little chin, little cheeks, little lips. I am washing your little nose and making your face all clean”
It doesn’t take any more of your time and it adds an element of fun for you both.
Babies don’t care that you are off key and say dumb words. They just like the novelty of a new sound and, as a bonus; singing stimulates the right side of the brain where imagination and creativity reside.
Say, you want to stimulate touch. Once the baby is all freshly diapered and alert, take an extra enriching moment and squeeze her muscles. Just put small amounts of pressure down each arm and leg. It’s like getting little hugs all over her body and, as an added bonus; it teaches baby that these body parts belong to her.
And if you’ve got a moment more, bicycle her legs as well as bringing them up and down and in and out. You can even say or sing about what you are doing and introduce a few vocabulary words while you’re at it.
When babies are paying attention, their eyes widen and their body gets quiet. When they have had enough stimulation, they will turn their head and look away or maybe even fuss. Babies cue us when to stimulate and when to stop.
And there’s more
If you want to hear more Sensory Moment ideas, I have to give you some extra news. There aren’t five senses, there are seven.
In addition to the old standards: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch; there are two other senses, the vestibular and proprioceptive sense. Neurologists have known this for years. I guess we don’t hear as much about them because the words don’t trip smoothly off the tongue. They are easier to remember if we think of them as the movement and balance sense.
The proprioceptive sense is the reason you know where your body parts are without looking. You can close your eyes and put your arms up in the air and don’t have to look up to know where they are. Your proprioceptive sense tells your brain where your body starts and ends, and what it’s doing. That little leg game with your infant begins that movement awareness. Later when they are crawling or toddling, bouncing them on your knee also stimulates this sense.
Your vestibular sense is the innate awareness that you are on the ground, that you won’t float away – it’s an essential core sense of stability that tells your brain that gravity is holding you down, and which way is up. It’s this awareness that develops your sense of balance. Rocking and swinging stimulate this sense, and that’s why children love to do it.
We like it, too
We all like to have our individual senses stimulated. That’s why when we listen to music, really LISTEN to music, it feels so good. Think about the absolute eye candy of an amazing sunset or the heart stopping moment when we really take in the sight of our sleeping baby. The next time you take a walk in nature, take a moment and really concentrate on a sensation: the babble of the water, the smell of fresh air or the feel of a breeze on your cheek. In that moment you will have the feeling that all is well. Sensory moments do that.
Use some of the ideas below, or make up your own, and give your child the gift of a Sensory Moment. Take a few Sensory Moments for yourself in your own day. We all feel better when we experience a little piece of joy.
What about my child with special needs?
Children with visual or auditory impairment benefit even more with Sensory Moments because they get the opportunity to practice and increase the senses that are working for them.
If your child has a brain anomaly such as cerebral palsy, stimulating their senses is crucial in developing alternative pathways.
Children with sensory integration differences, or who are on the autistic spectrum, especially need to have their movement and balance senses strengthened. Children who under-recognize sensation such as falling down and not feeling pain need more Sensory Moments. Many SPD and ASD kids will hurl themselves to the ground, against walls, crash into people, tackle other kids, hug way too hard or spin in circles, just to get more feedback from these senses. When I’m working with these children, I find that jumping games and tight squeezes work really well to calm them and bring them into their bodies. So do games that crash them into pillows or roll them in a blanket.
Sensations that are irritating such as touching sticky stuff can be slowly de-sensitized with progressive exposure.
SENSORY MOMENTS FOR CHILDREN – BIRTH TO THREE YEARS
1) Make interesting rattles by filling empty medicine or film containers with various materials such as pennies, salt and rice
2) If you often have music playing, put on a different type or change the radio station to something new
3) Bang on an empty oatmeal container or upside down plastic bowl. Try out different little rhythms while you are hitting on it. If your child is young or physically challenged, put the spoon in his hand with your hand over his. Make little rhythms together
4) Play clapping games and try out different ways to clap your hands and clap each others hands. Hear the difference between clapping quickly and clapping slowly.
5) Sit outside and listen to a bird singing and try and imitate the sounds you hear. A dove sound is a long sound while other birds give short chirps
6) Put on some music, take hands and move to the rhythm of the sounds. Some music invokes a swaying movement, while others make you want to move your hands up and down
7) Make different sounds with your voice to imitate—try high squeaky sounds such as “eee eee eee “ or low throaty sounds like “oooooo”
1) Lick toes!
2) Blow gently on your baby’s skin. Tell her what you are doing, “Mommy is blowing on your shoulder”, “I’m blowing on your palm…do you feel that?”
3) Blow on her skin using a straw
4) Put unscented body lotions on her skin
5) Put mustard or ketchup on the high chair tray for finger painting.
6) Place ice cubes on the high chair tray to pick up (Exchange them for bigger ones when they melt small enough to swallow)
7) Massage their arms, legs, hands and feet
8) Tickle with a feather or lightly rub with a cotton ball
9) Put different feeling materials on the table to swish around such as cornstarch, baby powder, whip cream, yogurt or shaving cream. (Which you use depends on if your child puts everything in their mouth or if they are past that stage and can just use their hands for feeling)
10) Ask your child to close their eyes and tell you which part of their body is being touched. For example, put your finger on the back of their knee, or neck or elbow. Can they say where they are being touched? If they can’t talk yet, can they then touch you in the same spot where you touched them?
11) Put dabs of shaving cream or ice cubes in their bath tub to try and catch
12) Put objects in a sock such as a comb, key or paper clip and they put their hand in and guess what it
13) Put water in a large basin or sink, add sponges to squeeze or floating ping pong balls to catch
14) Hide objects in a bowl of raw rice or birdseed to find
1) Find different spices like coffee, vanilla, orange or coconut oil to smell
2) Go around the yard or neighborhood and pick different flowers to smell
3) Place fresh flowers by her bed
4) Keep your child in the kitchen when cooking to smell the aromas. Lean over when you’re cooking and waft some of the spices under your darlin’s nose. Did the smell of cinnamon make him smile? How’d did he react to basil?
5) Add different scents to your child’s bathtub
6) Put different smells in small containers; lemon, garlic, flowers, peppermint, peanut butter, or anything with a strong smell, guess what it is, or talk about where you might smell it
1) Make a plate of small amounts of different foods. Taste with eyes closed and guess what it is
2) Allow them to try different sweet things that have Cinnamon, licorice or citrus
3) Describe the tastes of common foods; sweet, salty, bitter, sour, fruity
4) Describe the textures of foods; crunchy, sticky, smooth, chewy, silky, creamy
1) Hang interesting things above their bed or changing table; crepe paper, scarves or ribbons that blow in the breeze
2) Place your baby in various locations in the house or room to broaden their scope of perception. How does the same room look from different perspectives?
3) Make faces up close to your baby and then move your face slowly in various directions (side to side, back and forth, near and far)
4) Waggle your tongue; and move it side to side, and in and out. Babies are often mesmerized
5) Take your child on a tour of the house pointing out different, and familiar, things each time
6) Take your child for a walk outside and look for new sights to discover or point out anything interesting
7) Put a bird feeder outside the window where she can see it
8) Blow bubbles in a cup so that they overfill the cup and drape down the sides
9) Light a candle during bath time so your baby can watch the flickering flame
MOVEMENT (PROPRIOCEPTIVE) MOMENTS
1) Passively put your child’s arms and legs through the whole range of movements and sing along “Your arms go up, your arms go down. Your arms go in and your arms go out”
2) Make obstacle courses in your house for your child to move through on their own. They should be able to go over, under, around and between. For example, crawl under a table, step up on a chair and jump over, go between the two chairs and around the other table
3) Do jumping games or physically jump the child, especially when they are feeling anxious. Place newspaper squares on the floor and encourage them to jump from square to square
4) Play games such as “Ring around the Rosy” or “London Bridges”
5) Squeeze their muscles; give strong hugs, compress the joints. Deep pressure on their bodies helps bring kids back to the present
6) Use big bro’s skateboard to push them around
7) Roll them up in a blanket, like a burrito; sing a silly song while you do it
8) With two people you can hold the ends of a blanket and lay your child inside, gently rock them side-to-side and jiggle up and down
9) Put your child in a box and push it around the floor like a car, or rock it like a boat on wavy water
BALANCE (VESTIBULAR) MOMENTS
1) Put child on your knees and slowly rock them from side to side
2) Place child on beach ball and bounce them up and down or roll side to side
3) Go to the playground and swing! Or set up a swing indoors by hanging a small chair in the door way
4) Rock the child in your arms or hold them when they are standing in front of you. Shift your weight from side to side and back and forth
5) Dance together; at first with them standing on your feet, later just holding hands while you twirl them around in a circle
6) At the beach or in the pool, float your child on their back in the water
7) Do somersaults on a soft rug
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