In this article there are main characteristics of the child senses, their description and methods of development.
At birth baby is basically a bundle of senses groping toward the world around her. The liveliest parts of her central nervous system are those that control such actions as breathing, sucking and swallowing.
The sensory-motor process is made up of far senses and near senses.
Far senses: these are stimulated by the environment i.e. by hearing, seeing, smelling, touching and tasting.
Near senses: these respond to what is happening inside the body i.e. the vestibular system, muscle tension etc.
During the first few months baby’s dominant, most fully evolved senses – touch, smell and taste – are those that we grown-ups may take for granted. You must work on helping the infant develop all the senses.
Touch. This feeling is developed first and works from the sixth month of fetal life. After the birth sensations become more concrete. Due to the multiple receptors on the skin a baby gets different information: it is cold, warm, hard, wet, painful … Most receptors are found on the hands and lips. Breastfeeding assists the development of relations between different sensations: a child touches the mother’s body, tastes the milk, smells, hears his mother and sometimes looks at her. Starting from 4-5 months, he feels things with hands, and then puts them into his mouth. Touching himself and sucking his fingers and toes, a child learns his body. When moving he gets an idea of its size and learns to produce movement: reaching out a hand to grab a toy.
Balance. A newborn does not hold his head, his muscle tone is lowered. Thanks to the vestibular system, he feels that he is being held, and later he will be able to find landmarks in space. At about 6 months there is the sensitivity peak to changes of “gravitational sensations”: a baby begins to actively move his head. A bit later he starts swinging, rolling over on his side: the head changes its position relatively to the body, stimulating the balance system in the inner ear. Vestibular system often works together with the vision and finally matures between 7 and 10 years.
Hearing. Baby’s ear is nice in the womb and improves at birth. A newborn distinguishes high and low sounds, familiar and unfamiliar ones, the native language and a foreign one, as well as different voices. He prefers the high tones. At the age of one month, he starts from jangles and does not react to any sounds. At 3 months – he is able to find the source of a sound and to turn his head towards it. At 5 months he lifts or turns the head when hearing his name, even if the room is quite noisy. By the 6th or 7th month, it’s time to babble – this is an important stage of language acquisition.
If your child does not babble by 8 months or does it rarely, it is necessary to check his hearing.
Taste and smell. These two feelings are closely related. Smell plays an important role from the beginning of baby’s life: a newborn can recognize the smell of his amniotic fluid. Within the breastfeeding he can distinguish mother’s milk from another one. He identifies his mother’s smell since the third day of life. If a child is often cared by father he knows his smell as well. Smell abilities are developed in training, while taste is an innate gift. This has been proved by the researcher Jacob Steiner, who gave babies to taste food of four main types of tastes. They liked sweet very much and rejected sour and bitter. All this shows that the taste perception is reflective. As food diverse more, a child establishes more close link between taste and smell. Over some time his ability to identify increases. But all the children have different abilities, for example girls seem to be more sensitive to the tastes and smells than boys.
How to encourage senses and sensuality?
A child’s relationship with her parent is intimate. Such a relationship will help lead to a physically balanced adult. During the developing lessons if you can do the whole lesson with few clothes on the baby, or even near-naked, that’s great. If you can introduce massage – great!
Touch, stroking, hugging, cuddling – it’s the essence of life. It’s baby’s springboard to the emotionally balanced, fulfilled life. Jean Liedloff in her amazing discovery and book on living with a South American jungle tribe and how they rear their babies insists that in Western civilization, intellect has taking over from instinct and harmed the people’s wellbeing. She writes: “Intellect has taken over deciding what is best and insists on sovereignty for its vogues and guesses. … But even when he is saying: “I’m all right“, there is a sense of loss in him, a striving for something he cannot name, a feeling of being apart, of missing something. Asked point-blank, he will rearly deny it”. (Leidloff, 1975)