We all know that it is important to allow our babies to explore, and learn, and grow. It is important to start interacting with and engaging with babies right from the day they are born. Or even before that.
Once they are born, we can read to them, and play wit the, sing for them. Entertain and educate them in a fun and simple manner. Either at home, or at a play date or group class, sensory play is vital.
“Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates your young child’s senses: touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. Sensory activities and sensory tables facilitate exploration and naturally encourage children to use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and explore,” is how it is explained on the PBS Parents website.
The Urban Child Institute website explains: “Between conception and age three, a child’s brain undergoes an impressive amount of change. At birth, it already has about all of the neurons it will ever have. It doubles in size in the first year, and by age three it has reached 80 percent of its adult volume.
In the initial years of the baby’s life, the brain forms connections or synapses (as it is called in the neuroscience world) at a very rapid rate. In fact, the brain creates many more of them than it needs: at age two or three, the brain has up to twice as many synapses as it will have in adulthood. These surplus connections are gradually eliminated throughout childhood and adolescence, a process sometimes referred to as blooming and pruning
Funk N Play
Veena Rabadia, of Doha based Funk N Play states that sensory play is extremely important for babies and younger children learn about the world through the various senses. The architecture of the brain is such that the maximum development happens from birth till early childhood. Forming and reinforcing connections and synapses are key tasks of early brain development. Therefore experience plays a crucial role in ‘wiring’ a young child’s brain.”
According to her, sensory play has multiple benefits – “it stimulates brain growth, supports language development and cognitive development, it increases fine and gross motor skills, it promotes creativity and self discipline, and helps foster positive social interaction and cooperation.”
Veena is highly trained in early childhood education, as well as multiple areas of child development including speech and language, creative learning, as well as the British curriculum for childhood education – the Early Years Foundation Stage program. When she arrived in Doha in 2012 from London, she realized that there were very few parent and child classes available in Qatar. “I found that there was no early education classes that promoted creative learning through play for babies. I was also not sure of sending my young children to the nurseries here at the time, so I decided to put my training and skills to use, and start classes myself. It seemed like a good idea as it would also provide the learning opportunities and social interaction for my own kids as well.”
Sensory play can even be easily incorporated inside the house. She says: “There are many fun activities that can be done at home; and you don’t even need sophisticated equipment. Just use things we have in the kitchen like pots and pans, flour, spaghetti, empty containers, utensils.”
Her main advice to the parents is to not worry about the mess. “Just get a huge floor covering or play outside when weather permits. The mess can be cleaned up. Just think about how your children will remember these moments if you continue to do this until they are older and will also parent this way when they become parents themselves. Keep in mind, they are creating memories, not just messes.”
And for those who are more comfortable doing things outside of the home, group classes are great. “Groups can be hugely beneficial for children as it gives opportunities to move around, explore and play, and it also helps them to explore relationships with children of their own age and of other ages. It also helps them learn about conflict resolutions and behaviors such as sharing.
For parents, a group setting has its own pluses. “It helps parents find like-minded parents, with children of a similar age, thus helping build friendships. Especially in a community like Doha which is transient, and people coming and going all the time, this helps.”
Veena feels that the classes also help parents get more involved in the child’s learning; we are their lifelong teachers and it is amazing to see how they grow and develop.”
Some of the other classes she offers include music lessons, art and craft, yoga, and baby massage. The Funk N Play website states that listening and engaging with music from a young age helps babies develop verbal and non verbal communication skills including language, and listening, and expressing of feelings.
The art and craft lessons help in cognitive and emotional development. Creative activities help children get a head start in subjects such as math and science.
The mother and baby yoga sessions include lots of songs and movement as music rhythm and repetition is the key to encouraging babies to develop familiarity with the practice. Yoga applied to babies offers physical stimulation and an immediate sense of well-being. The combination of touching, stroking, handling and movement brings about a multi-sensory stimulation for babies, which also contributes to the development of the brain and nervous system.
Veena aims to inspire parents to connect with their children by offering ideas that can be implemented at home. “Children are amazing, and their creativity and imagination knows no bounds. We, as parents, need to get involved in their world, and we don’t even need help from any gadgets. Our babies just want to be with us and to spend quality time with us. This will help us create a strong generation of creative and confident individuals.”
Some things you can try easily:
- Nursery Rhymes – Sing loudly to your child, and try and use exaggerated actions. Encourage her to clap, and hold her hands hands and make her clap to the music.
- Blowing bubbles – Babies for some reason love bubbles (as do some adults like me). Blowing bubbles can be a fairly cheap but extremely fun activity to enjoy with the young ones.
- Pots and pans – Give the baby a pot, and a spoon. Or let them hangout on the kitchen floor with some utensils.
- Outdoor exploration – One thing I definitely try and do is to give the baby sensory experiences while we are outside. For example – if we are at the beach, I hold him, and let him walk barefoot on the sand. Similarly in grassy parks, I hold my boy and let him feel the grass beneath his feet. Leaves and trees and flowers are great too. If you are worried about cleanliness, just carry wet wipes with you.
- Water Fun – The bath tub is great too. Splash some water, use the shower, hold them over and dip little their feet in slowly. Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle.This will also make bath time an easy experience in the future.
- Rice: Take a large bowl and put uncooked rice in there! If you are patient and have time, you could even use food coloring to make it more exciting. But otherwise, just let baby run his hands through the rice and pick some up, and throw it around.
- Gel with jelly – Jelly has a very unique and interesting texture. I haven’t done this at home, but they have done it at my boy’s nursery. Make a batch of jelly, and squish and play!
- Play bags – This is an interesting idea I saw online. So what you do is take a sturdy ziplock bag, and put hair gel in it. And fill it with random tidbits – buttons, a small toy, pieces of ribbon and so on. Add glitter too if you can. And close and seal the back. Stick duck tape to make sure it doesn’t open and viola! Your baby will stay distracted for a while for sure.
- Twinkle stars – Get some battery operated Christmas lights – put them in a plastic jar and done.The sparkly lights will surely fascinate them and keep them engaged for a while.