The first year is critical to your baby’s development. But, in the flurry of all the other things you’ve been learning about in these first exciting (and exhausting) months, sensory development can feel like one more thing to add to your already endless to-do-list.
We’ve gathered the essential information you need to know about your baby’s sensory development in the first year, so you know what to expect, and how to nurture it.
What exactly is sensory development?
We all interact with the world through our senses − sight, touch, hearing and smell. Sensory development is all about developing sensory perception or the ability to register and interpret information from our senses.
Sensory play encourages development
By engaging in sensory play with your baby, you enhance her learning through hands-on activities that stimulate the senses. This is a great way for your baby to explore her world, and it’s a wonderful bonding experience for the two of you.
Sensory play also supports language development, thinking and reasoning development, fine and gross motor skills, and social and emotional development. If you think about it, sensory information is the basis for all learning:
- Touch perception leads to fine motor skills
- Seeing and hearing accurately allows children to listen to instructions, speak clearly and interpret things they see
- Accurately feeling where her body is space helps define balance, core strength and endurance.
Your baby’s sensory development in the first year
We asked occupational therapist Carly Tzanos and sensory integration specialist Lourdes Bruwer from Nubabi, to share important sensory milestones during your baby’s first year, and suggest some activities you can do with your little one to nurture her sensory development.
It’s important to remember that all babies develop different skills at different times: all at their own pace. The real measure of your baby’s progress is how they’re progressing compared to themselves – not anyone else. What is most important is that there is forward progression in all areas.
At birth, a newborn baby’s hearing, touch and smell are already fully developed. Newborns can hear, but won’t yet be able to find the direction the sound is coming from. A baby as young as three days old will be able to recognise her mother’s voice and smell, and will respond to a calming touch.
Very young babies will be able to see round shapes and distinguish contrasting colour, but they are only able to focus on objects close to them.
What to do:
- Babies love being held. Slings, wraps and carriers have become ever more popular because they give you the chance to cuddle your baby while having two hands free to get things done. It’s also easier to pick up on your newborn’s cues if she’s close to you, which helps your baby feel secure and strengthens the trust in your relationship.
- When your baby is in your arms, bring your face close (about 25cm away) so she can focus on you. Black and white mobiles are great for your baby. No mobile? No problem! Simply take a paper plate, draw a pattern on it in black and white, and hold that up for your baby to see. Now, slowly move it so your baby can learn to follow it with her eyes.
3 – 6 months
Babies can now focus on objects further away and can follow an object from side to side and up and down with their eyes. They react to noises and can turn their heads in the direction of the sound.
What to do:
- Allowing your baby to feel different textured materials like soft blankets, smooth mirrors or rough carpets will stimulate her sense of touch.
- Similarly, presenting different smells to your little one will stimulate her sense of smell. Your home is full of exciting new smells to explore − just look in your spice drawer or bathroom for inspiration.
- Bubbles also provide hours of entertainment and are excellent for visual tracking.
6 – 12 months
Your growing baby can now notice the smallest details − even something like a crumb on the carpet. She can distinguish between various family members and will start to learn the difference between friendly and unfriendly voices and tones. Her depth perception is also now developing, which means she doesn’t like unstable or moving surfaces.
What to do:
- Once your baby reaches six months, she’ll be all talk (or gurgles at least). Singing to your baby and waiting for her to respond teaches her the art of conversation − and the very necessary skill of listening. Action songs are very popular, so don’t forget to sing them over and over so that your baby learns the words and the actions.
- When your baby is around a year old, you can start playing with movement. This feeds into your baby’s vestibular sense, which builds postural core strength and endurance. Try laying out a sturdy blanket for your little one to lie on and hold onto, then pull the blanket along the floor while she rides on top. This stimulates sensory vestibular development, gross motor development and balance.
Note: These activities are examples and may not be suited to your child right now. To find activities that are just right for your child’s developmental stage, try Nubabi’s Weekly Stimulation Guide. You can sign up for a two-week free trial at here.
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