At birth, your baby’s senses tell him the things he needs in order to survive: when to be fed, and when to sleep. Neither of you is focusing on auditory, visual, or tactile development, but you both soon will be.
These senses unfold slowly, but perceptibly, and soon you’ll realize that your baby is seeing more clearly, turning his head to the sound of your voice, and wants to grasp objects. As your baby grows, you’ll find it a constant but rewarding challenge to keep him engaged, and you can help to develop his sensory awareness from infancy through the preschool years.
Sensory Development in Infants
Your baby has been able to hear since before birth, and likely recognizes your voice. Simply talking to your baby about anything will help to imprint language on his developing mind. While there is debate over the benefits of playing classical music for babies, certainly quiet music may soothe and comfort baby. Lullabies have survived years of parenting because they calm and reassure both infant and parent. The gentle rhythm of music can mimic the heartbeat sounds your baby has heard so long in utero and will help prepare him for language development.
Babies love to look at faces, whether yours or representations of them. Keep a picture book of faces on the changing table for your baby to study as you change him. Bright, contrasting designs like black and white graphics will stimulate his vision, particularly when he is still in the newborn stage of seeing stark contrast versus detail.
As your baby is able to hold objects, offer him a variety of textures to touch. Fuzzy blankets or bumpy teething toys will help his fine motor skills and keep him interested. Your baby will discover that anything he can hold can go straight to his mouth, and as he begins to teethe, he will appreciate raised textures and cool teething rings.
Sensory Development in Toddlers
Toddlers seem to be natural musicians. Banging on pots and pans, singing loudly, and stomping on the floor all bring that wonderful sense of “I did it!” to your developing toddler. Remember the classics from your childhood and some new songs from the many rock-bands-turned-children’s-bands, and be prepared to sing or play them over and over. Toddlers love repetition, so don’t be surprised if you can’t get “Five Green and Speckled Frogs” out of your head for days on end.
Picture books are terrific ways to stimulate your toddler’s visual senses. Keep on hand a revolving stack of picture books with bright, interesting designs, and your toddler will gravitate toward studying their pages.
Modeling clay, Play-Doh, and finger paints, while potentially messy, are wonderful avenues of discovery for your toddler. The various textures will encourage his small motor development and help prepare him for handwriting. You can find many homemade modeling compound recipes that are non-toxic and easy to make.
Sensory Development in Preschoolers
Preschoolers thrive on sensory stimulation. At this age, they’re ready to make differentiations between sounds, experimenting with their own voices and making imaginative play a daily routine. Watch as your preschooler plays with puppets or figures, and you’re sure to find he assigns different voices to different characters. Encourage your child to listen to various birdcalls, for instance, and talk about how genres of music sound different and use different instruments.
Your child’s artistic talents are growing, too, and painting and drawing are excellent ways to let your preschooler experiment with light, composition, and color. Keep crayons and markers and non-toxic paints on hand, and he’ll naturally produce visual art masterpieces you’ll want to showcase around your house.
Allow your preschooler to experiment with textures and sensations, too. Sandboxes, mudpies, or lacing cards and simple sewing projects will help him to differentiate between textures and develop his tactile senses.
Everyday Items Foster Sensory Development
Since humans incorporate vision, hearing, and touching in everyday life, you don’t need any special or technical items to develop these senses in your child. Take a look at and listen to your everyday life. The birdfeeder, the sunset, and the feel of dirt in the springtime are all perfect opportunities to engage your child’s senses, and will remind you to take a moment to enjoy these things as well.