During the first six months of a baby's life there are lots of games and activities you can do to help them make sense of their new world. Even when they are just born their senses are working and developing.
Here are some ideas for encouraging babies to use their senses.
- Sight - to begin with a baby's vision is very limited. Bright or contrasting objects and faces will be of most interest so rattles, plastic mirrors and coloured items will be of most benefit. They will begin to learn where they end and the rest of the world begins. They will start to track objects as they move in front of them and will begin to focus on more and more.
- Touch - For babies, being held and touched is vital and wonderful. They love the comfort of being held and the sense of touch can have a wonderful calming effect. Also, their own sense of touch, they they too can reach out and touch things is a key skill learned in their first six month of life. This learning happens through trial and error (and accidentally!) and can be encouraged by showing them how things rattle or move if they hold our a hand or shake a shaker etc.
- Taste and smell - Little babies have a great sense of smell. They can recognise the taste of their mother's breast milk and her unique smell before they can properly focus on her face.
- Sound - the sound of a mother's voice is the best thing in the world for a baby. It reassures the baby that the mother is near, it can sooth them and settle them. By four months some sounds the baby makes will be already based on the mother's own speaking voice and the rhythm of the language. So chatting to your baby, singing rhymes, reading books and talking in baby's presence is important.
1 in 1000 babies are born with hearing problems, some of which can be corrected, all of which need to be managed, so it's important to test your baby's hearing early on to diagnose problems. Within hours of birth, you may be offered a hearing test called an automated otoacoustic emission (AOE) test. 'Oto' means ear and 'acoustic' is sound; in this test a probe is placed in your baby's ear and a clicking sound played out. The ear should respond with an echo created by the outer hair cells in the cochlea. The test only takes a moment and can signal if there are likely any problems. If there are, a further test can be arranged.
A more involved test is the automated auditory brainstem response (AABR) screening test. This involves sensors being placed on your baby's head and soft earphones placed over their ears. Sounds are played out and again the response is measured. Surprisingly, both the AOE and AABR test can be carried out while your baby is asleep!
Hearing problems can lead to difficulty acquiring language skills so it's very important to catch them as early as possible. It is also believed that if the brain isn't stimulated to process and create sound within the first 6 - 12 months that the ability to develop spoken language may be completely lost.
Sign language is taught to babies and young children in most preschools and schools. Even though there may not be any children present with hearing difficulties, sign language assists the development of language more broadly, particularly for children that haven't mastered the ability to speak: children can communicate by signing long before they are able to communicate through speech.
The gulf between 'hearing' and 'listening' is to our ears what 'looking' and 'seeing' is to our eyes! We looked at 'looking' and 'seeing' in yesterday's post where we learned that looking is passive but seeing is active, processing visual information into a world of understanding. In the same way, we can hear noise, but in order to understand, we have to listen, that is to interpret the noise into aural communication.
Teaching our children to listen is another foundation for learning. Early on we need them to listen to our own instructions when we tell them to do, or not to do, things. Later in life, our children will have to listen in their school environment so that they benefit from the learning being offered. If all they do is hear noise, the babble of their teachers and classmates, then they won't understand and won't learn.
ToucanLearn's 'thinking' activities help to train your baby's to both look and listen in fun ways. Follow your child's learning program in ToucanLearn and they'll be set to excel when they reach school!