Your baby learns by using all her senses. She touches everything. She puts things in her mouth and near her nose so that she can taste and smell them. She shakes objects, responds to noises, and looks at everything in sight.
According to Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, the first stage of cognition is the sensorimotor stage. For her first two years, your baby gathers information about the world through her reflexes, movements, and senses. Her nervous system then transmits the information to her brain, which sorts and uses the information as it creates connections between neurons. As those connections multiply, your baby’s neural network builds, and her knowledge increases.
Piaget’s stages build on each other sequentially. By providing an environment that encourages your baby to use her senses, you can help her build a foundation for language and cognitive development.
You can enhance sensory stimulation through the following everyday routines:
- Eat together—Eating uses all of your baby’s senses. Food tastes, colors, smells, and textures—even the sounds of chewing—stimulate her brain.
- Talk about senses—Converse about senses with your child. Observe how a vegetable or flower feels, smells, tastes, sounds, or looks. If she does not yet have words to express her thoughts, she can still take in yours.
- Create a touch zone—Make a box of safe objects that have different textures, shapes, and surfaces. Talk about how different textures feel: “Feel the smooth wooden block. Touch the soft pillow.”
- Take a walk—Encourage your child to touch the grass, examine a leaf, and put her fingers in the sand or mud. Talk about how these objects and materials look, feel, smell, and sound.
- Take a bath—What does the water feel like when it drips on your child’s arm? Is it warm or cool? How does the soap smell?
- Cook together—More than any other sense, smell has a direct line to your baby’s brain, especially her memory. Shop, cook, and bake with your baby. Talk about the scents in the market and in your kitchen.
In her book Smart Start: Building Brain Power in the Early Years, Pam Schiller suggests using your baby’s sense of smell to boost learning. The scents of peppermint, lemon, cinnamon, and rosemary have all been shown to increase alertness. Be aware that the scents of synthetic chemicals and strong perfumes can be distracting and disruptive to your baby’s system.