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Sensory development - the first 1000 days

Baby Massage

Sensory perception is the ability to accurately register and interpret information we get from our senses.

Sensory information forms the basis of all general learning. Touch perception is vital for fine motor skills later on, accurate perception of what we see and hear allows children later on to listen to instructions, speak clearly and interpret what they see. Being able to accurately feel where our body is in space, and how it is moving through space, define our balance and postural core strength and endurance. All our senses work together to form the basis of academic learning.

Carly Tzanos and Lourdes Bruwer, occupational therapist and sensory integration specialists for Nubabi share some important milestones you should notice in your little one in the first three years starting from birth:

  • As a newborn, your little one has a good sense of hearing but initially cannot find the direction the sound is coming from.
  • The hand to mouth process starts – everything goes into his mouth.
  • He starts to follow an object from side to side with his eyes.
  • He learns to focus on an object closer to him.
  • He begins to focus on an object far away.
  • He starts to follow an object up and down with his eyes.
  • He shows a reaction to sound and starts to turn his head in the direction of the sound.
  • He learns to focus from one object to another.
  • He can perceive the smallest detail – e.g. a piece of dirt or fluff on the carpet.
  • He can distinguish various family members.
  • He starts to discriminate between friendly and unfriendly voices/tones.
  • His depth perception is developing and he may become afraid when placed on unstable or moving surfaces. 

It’s important to note that babies do not always have the same developmental challenges in their spotlights at the same time. The real measure of your child’s development is how they’re progressing compared to themselves - not anyone else. Remember, your baby is unique and will develop at his own unique pace. A solitary delay or lag is usually nothing to worry about and does not indicate any long-term issues. Watch out for a cluster of issues, especially if the delays are in more than just one area of development as this may need to be investigated.

Spend time with your child and trust your intuition as they develop, taking a keen interest in what they are doing and how they are doing it. If you are concerned about any aspect of your child’s development you can find support from various professionals (paediatricians, therapists and teachers) and be proactive in providing opportunities to help them reach their true potential.

Here are some activities that will boost your baby’s sensory development:

Note: The activities below 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 2 week Free Trial here.

Close for comfort

Just as they need to eat and sleep, babies need to be held. Whether you use a sling, a wrap or a structured carrier, ‘Close for comfort’ is a wonderful way of ‘holding’ your baby. It allows you to feel intimacy and love while you go about your everyday tasks. You will also be able to pick up on your newborn’s cues much quicker and therefore respond earlier, before he gets to the point of being completely overwhelmed. This helps him feel secure and strengthens the trust in your relationship. Carly Tzanos, occupational therapist for Nubabi

What to do:

  1. Consider your baby’s age, weight and developmental stage when choosing the right carrier and ideal position in the carrier.
  2. Younger babies need good head, neck and hip support and should be carried facing you (cradle or “froggie” position). In this position, they are less likely to get overstimulated as there is less to see. When your baby is older, you can turn him around to see the world as he will be able to tolerate a little more stimulation.
  3. To keep his legs and hips in the most comfortable position, ensure that his knees are higher than his bottom while carrying him (i.e. his legs shouldn’t be dangling straight down). By carrying him in this sitting position, less strain is placed on his spine. 
  4. Try to spend some ‘close for comfort’ time with your baby every day.

Musical Mama

At around 6 months, it’s important to give your clever baby a chance to respond when you talk, coo or gurgle with him. Remember to wait patiently, as it will take him a while to respond. By being patient and allowing time for him to respond, you are teaching him to listen too - yet another important skill. Lourdes Bruwer, occupational therapist for Nubabi

What to do:

  1. With or without music your baby loves your voice, so get up there and sing with all your heart! 
  2. Action songs are great at this stage, as they allow your little one to be a part of the fun as well as teaching him to anticipate in what’s coming next if it’s a song he hears often.  
  3. Repetition is key to children’s songs so when you’ve had enough, sing it another couple of times.
  4. If you’re stuck for song ideas, find a CD with some favourites to get you going, ask some other mommies or just make something up.

Blanket Run

Movement input feeds into your baby’s vestibular or sense of movement which builds postural core strength and endurance. When your little one is around 12 months, you can get whizzing around with your little one to build those core muscles! Lourdes Bruwer, occupational therapist for Nubabi

What to do:

Using a sturdy blanket, allow your little one to lie down on it, either on his tummy or on his back and show him how to hold on. Then you can pull him along the floor while he “rides” on top.

This is a great activity to stimulate sensory vestibular development, gross motor development and balance.

Upside down, tipsy turvy play

When your little one has his head dangling upside down his movement sense is getting a healthy dose of stimulation. This sense is vital for building your little one’s postural core endurance. Try this activity around 18 months. Lourdes Bruwer, occupational therapist for Nubabi

What to do:

  1. Roll a medium sized ball to your toddler and encourage her to roll it back to you through her legs! She will probably need you to show her how to do this by demonstrating it and by using your hands over her hands to help guide her actions and movements.
  2. When she rolls the ball to you encourage her to peek through her legs at you. This will get her head in that upside down position. Watch your toddler closely and read her cues, stoping the activity if she becomes pale/flushed or if she moans of feeling too dizzy. Our movement sense is a powerful sense which can leave us feeling the effects for many hours after stimulating it!
  3. Be sure to shower your clever little one with lots of self soothing deep bear hugs or calming heavy massages before, during and after this activity. 

For more activities that will boost your baby’s Sensory Development and other key developmental skill areas, visit Nubabi and sign up for your 2 week Free Trial.

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