Category Archives: Mental and Physical Health

Building Sensory Development in Children

Sensory development is the gradual process by which an infant learns and becomes aware of their senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell, vestibular (body movement), and proprioception (body position).

 

Stages of sensory development differ for each child. However, each sensory milestone falls around the same approximate timeframes:

 

  • 0-6 months: Babies are alert and respond to sounds and voices. They also begin looking at their own hands.
  • 6-12 months: Babies can move their tongues around food particles and distinguish different textured foods.
  • 1-2 years: Babies enjoy messy play! They also react to extreme temperatures and can solve problems using trial and error.
  • 2-3 years: Toddlers begin to explore their surroundings. They can also identify basic shapes.
  • 3-4 years: Children can count from 1 to 5 and identify most colors. They also develop social skills through activities and simulated play.

 

Children acquire sensory skills in a progressive manner. These skills play an important role in their overall development. You can initiate sensory play by providing a safe and encouraging environment for discovery.

 

What is Sensory Play?

 

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates a child’s senses. These activities facilitate exploration and encourage children to discover and refine different thresholds of sensory information.

 

Sensory play helps refine other skills such as language development and motor skills. Some forms of sensory play also have calming effects, which can assist in regulating a child’s boredom, restlessness, or agitation.

 

How Can I Induce Sensory Play?

 

There are several ways of introducing sensory play to your child. You can utilize everyday items in your household to create an exciting experience. Below are some fun ideas to try!

 

1) Sensory Board

A sensory board is suitable for babies around 4-6 months and can also be used with toddlers until the age of 2. For this engaging activity, you will need a wooden board, glue, and an assortment of household items. Affix the items to the board with the glue. Choose similar items with varying textures, shapes, and sizes. For example, attach different types of fabric. As your child feels each piece, describe its texture using words like “rough,” “sparkly,” “soft,” etc. You can even attach a jingling key ring to engage your child’s sense of hearing.

 

2) Play Dough

Play dough is one of the most stimulating toys for children under 2. Your child will develop an understanding of how to grasp objects and mold different shapes. Most play dough available in stores contains chemicals that could be harmful to your child. Instead, you can whip up a quick batch of safe and edible play dough! To get you started, here’s a great recipe that is delicious and easy to make!

 

3) Food Art and Play

Feeding a baby or toddler often can be a messy task. However, it’s also an ideal time to have a fun learning experience! Cut up different types of fruit such as apples, oranges, and bananas. This will help your child in understanding different colors, shapes, and textures. Moreover, it will stimulate their taste buds and nasal rectors and expand their palate. Bonus point? Let them squish the fruits to their heart’s content and build their hand muscles. Encouraging your child to play with their food may also make them more receptive to try new foods.

From Banana For Two by Ellen Mayer, illustrated by Ying-Hwa

4) Rice Bottles

Rice bottles are perfect for toddlers between the ages of 2 and 4. Fill an empty bottle with grains such as rice, wheat, or barley to make a shaker for your child. Shake the bottle to help build motor skills; the sound of the moving grains will also stimulate hearing. Be sure to seal the bottle tightly so as to prevent any grains from accidentally entering your child’s mouth.

 

5) Interactive Books

Interactive books for babies and toddlers have plenty of developmental benefits. Interactive book elements such as lift-the-flap, die-cut holes, and touch-and-feel provide a range of sensory experiences. For example, books that emit sounds and light may improve sight and hearing. The die-cut or lift-the-flap features will foster your child’s curiosity and touch as they trace shapes or play with the flaps. In addition, reading aloud to your child will enhance their language acquisition skills.

From Shapes At Play by Jin Choi

By introducing these forms of sensory play, you help children remain cognitively stimulated and aid in their overall development. These are just some of the ways you can engage in sensory play. Visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children website for more suggestions and information.

Supporting Childhood Development Through Gardening

From What’s In My Garden? written by Cheryl Christian, illustrated by Annie Beth Ericsson

Play isn’t just fun; it is fundamental for supporting a child’s learning, growth, and development. In particular, outdoor play helps improve sensory skills and encourages physical activity. Outdoor play doesn’t stop at the playground; it can also take place in a garden. Gardening with your child provides bonding time and helps them develop positive habits that enhance lifelong health. This activity can be accessible to children who live in urban and rural areas.

 

Gardening Supports Health

Sunlight, fresh air, and digging in the dirt benefit your child’s health in multiple ways. Gardening supports sensory development by engaging every sense—the sights and scents of flowers, tastes of veggies, and textures of leaves. Gardening has also been shown to improve mental health by helping reduce stress and depression. Exposure to healthy microbes in the dirt can strengthen your child’s microbiome—an important part of their immune system. Playing outside can even help children sleep better at night.

 

Tending a garden also supports essential motor skills. Fine motor skills are needed for tasks like using a pencil or tying shoelaces. Using gardening tools, grasping tiny seeds, and pulling weeds help your child develop these skills. Carrying a watering can and walking in soft soil can boost gross motor skills like balance and coordination. Physical exercise like this is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and preventing illness.

 

A garden can help your child enjoy a healthy diet. It can be a challenge to convince picky eaters to try new foods or get proper daily servings of vegetables. Children are more likely to try new vegetables and fruits if they help to grow them. Multiple studies found that gardening increased vegetable consumption in children far more effectively than nutrition education programs.

 

Gardening can also be part of a healthy lifestyle for children with physical disabilities. There are many simple ways to make gardens accessible. One of the easiest is to use raised containers in order for the soil level to be within reach. Window boxes, hanging baskets, or vertical gardens can accomplish this, as well as tall plants like tomatoes or pea vines on a trellis. Wide walkways of compacted soil or gravel can offer better traction for scooter or wheelchair users.

 

Gardening Builds Cognitive Skills

Tending plants can spark your child’s curiosity for science. Starting a plant from seed offers a hands-on opportunity to see the life cycle of plants. Once the seed develops, grade schoolers can learn the basic parts of a plant—flower, leaf, fruit, stem, root—and their functions. Middle and high schoolers might find interest in identifying more detailed parts of a flower—anther, filament, stigma, etc.

 

Planning for a garden can also help develop your child’s vocabulary as they learn the names of plants and vegetables and read requirements on seed packages for light, water, and soil. Grade school children can create plant labels by writing plant names on popsicle sticks or stones. If you are creating a larger vegetable garden, older children can help you make a garden map to plan when to sow seeds and how to maximize available space.

 

Your child’s critical thinking will be challenged by tending a garden, whether it is through figuring out how to move a big rock or quickly pulling weeds. You and your child can solve problems together by discussing how you will manage bad weather, plant diseases, or garden pests.

From A Garden for Groundhog by Lorna Balian

 

Get Your Garden Started

Gardening doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or take up a lot of space; but it does require a little planning. First, consider the needs of your family and the age of your child(ren). With toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary-aged children, avoid plants that may be dangerous if touched or ingested. Young children may delight in the reward of quick-sprouting seeds like peas, lettuce, and beans. Children in middle and high school may enjoy seeing a flower bloom or a vegetable ripen after weeks of anticipation.

 

If you have a big yard, in-ground garden beds are a great option, but smaller spaces like patios can host beautiful container gardens. Urban families with limited outdoor space may be able to use hanging baskets, window boxes, rooftop space, or even plant an herb garden on a windowsill. Many cities offer community garden plots where anyone can volunteer. If you aren’t sure what to plant or how to care for plants, most regions in the US have an extension office with gardening experts who can give you advice.

 

Whether your garden fills an acre or a couple pots on your front steps, it will provide your child countless opportunities to grow and develop as you nurture nature together.

How to Teach Children Body Autonomy and Consent

 

What is body autonomy?

Body autonomy (sometimes called bodily autonomy) is defined by the United Nations as the power and agency a person has over their body and future, without violence or coercion. In other words, all people—including children—have a right to live free from physical acts, such as touch, to which they do not consent.

 

Why do body autonomy and consent matter?

Body autonomy and consent are vital to every human being. Learning about these concepts early in life helps to support a child’s social and emotional skills like sensitivity toward others and self-confidence. Body autonomy and consent also play a part in aiding children’s mental and physical health.

 

Some children love getting hugs and snuggles! Others, including those with touch sensitivities or sensory processing differences, may find these forms of physical affection uncomfortable or stressful. Allowing children to express when they are feeling discomfort or hurt and encouraging them to consider how others feel helps them to develop self-awareness and empathy.

 

Many professionals, including pediatricians, believe that teaching children about body autonomy and consent is also an important tool to help prevent child sexual abuse. This abuse can have long-term physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral consequences on children. Child sexual abuse is a significant problem: about one in four girls and one in thirteen boys experience sexual abuse at some point before the age of eighteen.

 

For a variety of reasons, many children who experience abuse wait to report or never report it. Understanding body autonomy and consent at a young age can empower a child to speak up and say “no” if abuse occurs. It can also equip children to disclose abuse if it happens.

 

This is a heavy topic, and it can be hard for caregivers to know how and when to talk with their children about these issues. The short answer? Start simple and start young!

 

Talking to children about autonomy and consent

Caregivers can begin talking with children about autonomy and consent as early as preschool. Conversations about these subjects should change and expand as a child grows. Here are some practical tips to initiate discussions with children and keep them ongoing.

 

Use the right terms at the right age

While preteens can begin to comprehend abstract concepts like “consent” or “autonomy,” preschoolers can grasp simpler words related to consent like “body,” “space,” and “touch.” Use phrases like “this is my body and my space” to illustrate meaning. Preschool is also a great time to teach children the correct anatomic names for body parts, including private parts. This approach helps children understand that these parts of their body are important and not shameful. Youngsters will also be able to use the right terms if they need to disclose abuse.

 

Talk with preschoolers and kindergarteners about who is allowed to see or touch their body and for what reasons. “OK touches” might include a parent helping them use the bathroom, a teacher helping tie their shoe, a friend giving them a hug, or a doctor giving them a checkup with a parent present. “Not OK touches” might include someone hugging or touching them without their permission or someone touching or asking to see their private parts. These conversations can develop as children age; include the subject of consent in discussions about sex and sexual harassment with your preteen and teenager.

 

Ask your child to name at least five family members and adult friends outside the family who they trust and see often. This might include a teacher, coach, or doctor. This group of adults is their “safety network.” Let your child know that if they ever feel uncomfortable, scared, hurt, or confused after an encounter with someone, they should talk with an adult in their safety network.

 

 

From Please Don’t Give Me a Hug!

Practice giving and receiving consent

Some caregivers might encourage—even force—their children to “give grandpa a hug” or “give auntie a kiss.” Allow your child to decide whether or not they want to have this contact. Support the idea that if a child says “no,” the behavior should stop and not be forced.

 

Offering a choice empowers your child to have control over their own body and teaches them that it is okay to say no, even to adults. Give them other ways to show affection—a handshake, a high five, or a fist bump, for instance.

 

Remind your child to ask permission before touching another child. Share with them that not everyone likes to be touched, and that’s okay! Other people have autonomy over their own bodies too.

 

Starting the conversation

Physician Martha Perry suggests using media such as movies or news stories to spark conversations with your child about consent. Having conversations about consent and body autonomy will play a vital role your child’s health and wellbeing throughout their life.

 

Here are some resources to help you get started:

For preschool children

Our new board book Please Don’t Give Me a Hug! is a story about how some children dislike physical contact. This book can help you talk with your toddler or preschooler about how friendliness, love, and affection can be shown in many ways!

 

For grade-school children

Boss of My Body from the Mother Company is a music video that introduces the idea of body autonomy by encouraging children to be the “boss” of their own body.

 

For preteens and teens

The ASK. LISTEN. RESPECT. video and discussion guide can help you speak to your teenagers about healthy relationships, including setting—and respecting—boundaries.