As a parent you are very aware of giving your toddler a balanced diet. Five fresh fruit and vegetables a day are what we are aiming at. How many of us even consider that we need to give them a varied sensory diet as well?
Creating a sensory rich environment for your toddler will help them strengthen their bodies and their brains. Mature thinking and learning are based on neural pathways that develop as a child masters physical coordination, balance and skilled movement. Yet many parents view “child play” as an outdated activity. We live in a digital age- let them master computers, electronic games so they may conquer the universe! How wrong they are!
We need to get our children back to the games we played, back to exploring a three dimensional world where they get full of mud and run and jump in puddles.
Let’s look at Emily, a four year old. She is a bossy little girl who tells her parents what to do. She is a fussy eater that would eat yoghurt all day if she could, refuses to dress herself and does not play well with other children. If they brush against her,she pushes and shoves. If she shows affection she hugs too tightly. Dad thinks she needs stronger boundaries from mom. Mom feels she is just expressing a strong will.
At school Emily never likes to play with blocks or draw. When she does use the crayon it is with hard strokes which often break the crayon frustrating her even more. When Emily runs, it is with a clumsy gait and she often falls. At the end of the day she is tired and irritable. Is Emily just being naughty or is there more to this behaviour?
Research done with children showing similar patterns indicate that this may be a sensory processing disorder. This is a common but very misunderstood problem that affects behaviour, influences the way children learn, move and relate to others and feel about themselves. Emily needs to learn how to modulate her senses in order to cope with day to day life. She exhibits this bad behaviour when she can’t cope with what’s happening around her, when she feels overwhelmed. So how do we help Emily and all the little ones like her?
What we need to do as parents is to focus on developing and maintaining a balanced sensory diet for our children. As they develop and grow we need to relax and think about incorporating sensory experiences in to their day to day life.
Let’s begin by looking at tactile stimulation. A child can be hyper or hypo sensitive to touch. In both cases it will affect learning and the way we interact with people. Emily might be hypo sensitive, hence she pushes or hugs too hard.
Not everyone realises that we have internal senses as well, called the near senses. These play a vital role in our development especially in the early years. Movement is the only way to stimulate this internal sense. Emily needs more movement to help with her balance.
Smell and taste are interlinked. Expose them to different smells and let them explore different tastes, even ones they don’t like. Emily is sensitive to the textures of her food and that could be the reason that she is a fussy eater.
The eyes and ears are the senses that can give us the most problems later. If we don’t process what we see and hear we have auditory or visual processing problems which lead to learning difficulties at school. Emily finds the noise of the classroom too much and prefers to be on her own.
For this week don’t just think five fresh fruit and vegetables think five sensory activities to enrich their learning experience.
Written by Liz Victor – late CEO of Toptots Early Learning SA