Working on developing the five senses with your child may sound like homework, but it’s actually something you do every day without even trying. You and your child use your senses every day to decide what to eat, what the weather is like and what kind of games you want to play. If you are already working on sensory development, you might as well take it up a notch and work on developing each sense a little more.
Sight is the easiest sense to stimulate. As long as your child’s eyes are open, he’s sensing things. Right from birth you can play things like peek-a-boo or “Where’s baby?” with a mirror. You’ll always get that cute baby smile as you come back into sight. As he gets older, you can look for items around the house or on your walk. Peek-a-boo will transition into hide-and-seek and you can look at things that are farther away. A toddler can watch the wind blow the leaves in the tree or look for airplanes in the sky. Talk about the colors that you see or how things look, compared to how they feel. You can mix two kinds of paint together to see what new colors you can find. This makes the activity more tactile by finger painting.
Talk to your child at any age. You don’t need a scripted dialogue. He won’t remember if you tell him the grocery list or who you are going to vote for in the next election. As long as you are engaging, he’ll learn from you. He learns the sound of your voice right from birth and can tell the difference between you and other voices. You can add plenty of new sounds to his world by pouring water or sitting next to a stream. Give him musical instruments to play. When he is a baby, he’ll probably only shake rattles before they end up in his mouth. As he becomes a toddler and 2-year-old, he’ll move onto more instruments like drums and recorders. Try recording sounds for him and playing them back. Kids love animal sounds so play barnyard sounds and guess what they are. This works really well after a trip to the petting zoo so the association is fresh.
Touch is a fun sensory to work out. It’s easy to be creative about what your child can touch. As an infant, he’ll like stroking the cat or dog — careful, he’ll grab a fistful of hair! You can also help him feel the tactile pages of a board book. You’ll find nearly limitless types of sensory toys you can buy, including water and sand tables. But these are easily made with a bin of water, sand or rice. Mix it up by using beans or corn starch and water in the bin. Whatever you use, make sure it’s non-toxic and your toddler can’t choke on it. You’ll need to be careful if you have a toddler or 2-year-old that still puts everything in his mouth. Homemade play dough is pretty safe for toddlers that still stuff their mouths with everything they can get their hands on. It’s made out of kitchen ingredients and you can store it safely in your fridge so it stays fresh.
Taste is sometimes forgotten in sensory development. If your child doesn’t like something, you’ll know about it. It will end up on your clothes, in your hair and down your shirt. It seems obvious that he doesn’t need this sense further developed. However, you can help him by giving him new food to try and also the vocabulary to describe it. This sense is closely linked to smell so you will be working on both of them at the same time. At first, your infant may only develop his sense of taste by trying pureed peas or peas mixed with carrots, but as he gets older, he’ll try all kinds of foods. Don’t be afraid to try something a little different, like strong cheese, because you never know what he might like. As he turns into a toddler, his stomach will be more developed and you can branch out even further.
Smell is another sense that is often left off the sensory list. Young children, especially babies, don’t have a broad range when it comes to smells. They know what they like, breast milk and their mom’s skin, but not much else. Toddlers and 2-year-olds get a stronger sense of smells. They will come running if they smell fresh cookies! But, they are still limited in their sense of “bad” smells. Most toddlers don’t mind at all if they smell poopy. They may even try to help you change them regardless of the odor. So, you might not get them to understand that poo smells bad, but you can start giving them the vocabulary. In the meantime, work on favorable smells like flowers, pine trees, campfire smoke and all the different kinds of food you eat. Smell the food first and then see if it tastes the same as how it smells. Walk outside and say “the air is very fresh today.” You can also help them identify new smells by putting pungent fragrances on cotton balls and sealing them in clean baby food jars. As he opens each one, he can guess what the smell is. Shampoo, vinegar, cinnamon and vanilla are easy to find and easily recognized.