Enriching Your Baby's Senses: Hear Me, See Me, Touch Me

by Virginia B. Hargrove

Enhance Baby's SensesYour baby's senses began developing long before birth. How will you be enriching your baby's senses?

Babies begin to develop feeling in their mouths and noses at about 7 weeks. By 14 weeks, baby's head is sensitive to touch. The first taste buds emerge 8 weeks after conception. In the third trimester when the eyelids open, baby can detect light and see outlines in the womb.

You can keep your babies brain and senses developing by interacting, playing games, touching and talking.

See Me: Playing with Vision

Babies are programmed to be fascinated by human faces. Hold your newborn a few inches from your face, talk or make funny faces. Wait a minute and see if your baby mimics you.

It's not just faces that hold a baby's attention. Your wee one will study patterns and shapes, especially those with sharp outlines. Research indicates that babies prefer complex over simple or curved patterns and that they spend more time looking at new objects rather than ones that they've seen over and over.

• At birth, your baby doesn't see very well, especially distances. Newborn's see best at 8 to 10 inches.
• By two months, your baby's vision has improved enough to follow moving objects.
• At three months, objects up to 10 feet away become clearer. • Around six months, baby's depth perception.
• Your baby's vision is similar to an adult's by his or her first birthday.

"Look at Me" Games and Activities

Engage your newborn by gently shaking a high contrast rattle a few inches from his or her face. Once spotted, slowly move from side to side, giving a "rattle hint" if your baby looses sight of it. When the game gets old, your baby will lose interest or look away.

By the time your baby can sit up, color vision develops. You can get down on the floor and pick out your favorite colored blocks. Does your baby share your tastes?

Once your baby realizes that things exist even when they're out of sight, you can play games like peek-a-boo and hide the toy.

Take your baby around town, the supermarket, museum and park. Talk about what you're doing, going, what you'll do when you arrive, and who and what you'll see.

Did you know that babies learn differently from a TV or computer screen than from a book?

Hear Me: Enhancing Baby's Hearing

Your baby waited months for the eyelids to open. The sense of hearing starts much sooner. Babies begin to react to loud noises as early as 25 weeks gestation.

• A newborn remembers noises from the womb, like your voice and songs that you've been singing.
• At three months, your baby attempts to repeat sounds by cooing. You'll notice changes in pitch and pauses.
• By five months, your baby discovers the power of words.
• By eight months, babies understand the meaning of many words and try to duplicate them.
• At one year, most babies say a few words like "dada," "bye" and "uh-oh."

"Talk with Me" Games

Securely sew a bell to your baby's sock. Each kick rewards your budding soccer player with a melody.

Offer toys or objects that make different sounds, like crinkles, low and high pitched rattles, music and chimes.

Put on music and play an oatmeal box or tin can drum with your baby. Sing or dance together.

Introduce animal sounds. "The doggie says 'woof-woof'." "The pig grunts!"

Did you know that babies who participate in interactive music classes with their parents smile more, communicate better, soothe easier and show sophisticated responses to music earlier.

Touch Me: Nurturing the Sense of Touch

Babies "feel" by using their mouths. Touch sensitivity starts there and develops in a head-to-toe sequence.

• Touch triggers a newborn's immune system and the protection of growth hormones. Those gentle, firm pats and strokes help your baby gain weight, develop motor control and fight off disease.
• Babies can detect differences in the texture and shape of objects by touching or holding them.
• Around four months you'll see those little hands stretch and grab every thing within reach. The hands and mouth have the most touch receptors and that's what your baby uses to explore the world.

Did you know that five-year-olds have more touch sensitivity on their faces than on their hands?

Touch and Sensation Games

Touch is your baby's most highly developed sense at birth. It serves as the primary method of communication between you and baby. Caresses and gentle stokes reassure, nurture and build your baby's strength.

Offer your newborn a massage. Babies who are massaged for at least 15 minutes a day are more active and awake during the day, cry less, sleep better and seem more bonded with their parents.

Help your baby discover the differences between hard and soft, warm and cool, or rough and smooth. A blanket might be fuzzy; the carpet could be scratchy. Talk about these different sensations as they're touching the object.

Splish, splash! Let's have a bath! Let your baby enjoy the feel of warm water against skin. Gently pour water over baby's chest. Once your baby's a bit older, bath time means slapping, splashing and pouring the water. These activities stimulate the sense of touch.

Did you know that newborn girls are more sensitive to touch than boys? This difference persists throughout adulthood. Women can detect lighter touches than men can perceive.

Do you and your baby have a favorite sensory enhancing game? We'd love to hear about it!