PROPRIOCEPTION AND THE SENSE OF TOUCH
How do we know where we are in space? Through pressure. When you sit on a chair you feel the contact of your bottom against the seat of the chair and your feet against the floor. When you recline on the sofa to watching TV, you feel the pressure of the back of the legs, pelvis, torso, shoulders, and head against the fabric on the furniture. These sensations of pressure tell you that you are lying down. This ability to feel orientation in space is called proprioception. We have receptors in the cells of our skin, muscles, joint, and bones that respond to the pressure of touch by sending signals to the brain to pay attention to the area receiving the touch.
THE PRESSURE OF WATER, SWADDLING, AND SWIMMING
For baby, she has been in the watery environment of the womb for many months. Water creates pressure and helps baby feel her body more clearly. After birth, parents often swaddle baby to recreate the secure feeling in the womb of the pressure of water on baby’s body. The pressure of the material snuggly wrapped around her body is comforting because it helps her feel where she is in this new airy environment. Her new environment gives less sensation to the skin, bones, and muscles than the watery environment of the womb. Babies enjoy swimming lessons because the water is familiar to them and the pressure feels comforting. Benefits of baby swim lessons include gentle strengthening and improved proprioception as she feels each body part very clearly as it moves against the pressure created by the water. Learn how to swaddle your newborn and locate a school offering swim lessons for babies to develop your child’s proprioception.
TOUCH, MOTOR SKILLS, AND BABY’S BRAIN
Baby’s brain sends the signals to her muscles to move. As baby learns her motor skills, touch is very informative. The pressure of your hand on her leg clarifies that particular body part in her brain. When she feels her leg more clearly she can use it in an improved way. For example, after tapping and gently squeezing baby’s leg she may begin to kick that leg with more vigor. An activity to try at home is to gently tap each of baby’s limbs in a rhythmic way and name them for her. If repeated regularly, she will like it and it may calm her when she is fussy. Just remember, through the sense of touch information is being sent to the brain where her motor skills originate.
COACHING MOTOR SKILL DEVELOPMENT WITH TOUCH
The baby in the photo at the top of the post is on her stomach. She feels she is on her stomach because of the contact of her abdomen and chest with the floor. When her teacher puts her hand on baby’s back, baby feels that part of her body more clearly. She also feels where she is in an improved way because of the contact to both sides of her torso, front (against the floor) and back (from the teacher’s hand). She feels more secure when she feels the dimensionality of her torso rather than only one side. This technique can be used to improve motor skill activities such as tummy-time. When baby is on her tummy you can tap her back so she feels more secure and will learn to lift her head. Simple hands-on skills can be learned to guide baby through each motor milestone.
Praise can be defined as the expression of warm approval. The action of praising baby occurs when baby does something new such as reaching a motor milestone or speaking a new sound. It also occurs when baby does something familiar in a new and improved way, which may also include motor skill development. For example, when baby crawls with improved coordination and strength her mother may say, “Good Girl!” Although baby may not exactly understand the words, she knows by the tone of your voice and the bright smile on your face that she has done something good. This communication from a parent serves as feedback for her so she will know what actions to repeat (and which to avoid).
PRAISE AND THE 5 SENSES
Baby hears your message of encouragement most clearly when it is echoed through more than one of the 5 senses. If you speak carefully chosen words of affirmation in a warm tone of voice which she can hear, smile at her and nod your head which she can see, and maybe pat her on the back which she can feel, she understands your affirmation through 3 sensory systems: visual, auditory, and touch. This is very clear communication for baby. The other two senses, smell and taste, are used with animals when we give our dog a treat to eat when he sits upon command.
WORD CHOICES FOR BABY PRAISE
One of the most commonly used expressions today for praising baby is, “Good job!” The baby rolls for the first time and mother says, “Good job!” The baby crawls for the first time and the father says, “Good job!” This phrase of “Good job” should be crossed off of our list of words for encouragement of baby development. Why? First off, regarding motor skill development, what baby is doing is not a job at all. It is a movement they have learned for getting around in life. Later on, when they learn a chore such as washing dishes you can say “Good job!”
Secondly, the use of the same phrase for each new skill learned does not guide them toward identifying the word that is associated with the skill. Instead, choose words that describe the skill they are learning. It is much more beneficial for the development of a baby if you say, “Beautiful rolling, Mary! Good girl,” when she learns to roll and follow with “Good crawling,” later on when she learns to crawl. Adjectives to combine with the name of skills for affirmation include beautiful, outstanding, excellent, good, great, and more. And don’t forget Elmo’s lesson above from Maestro Gustavo Dudamel on Sesame Street’s youtube channel, when you see something “very great and amazing,” such as your baby crawling for the first time, you can say, ‘STUPENDOUS!”
INGREDIENTS FOR BABY PRAISE
- Tone of Voice: A positive and encouraging tone in the voice is like a gentle massage to her–it feels good.
- Facial Expression: Smile and nod your head.
- Choice of Words: Identify the skill baby is learning.
- Touch: Include an occasional pat on the back with your words.
A CLASSIC RATTLE IS POPULAR FOR YEARS
What makes something a “classic”? We all know “classic” cars, movies, toys, furniture, and sodas– Ford Thunderbird, Casablanca, Etch-A-Sketch, and the Eames desk chair. According to yahooanswers.com, the term “classic” is used to describe something over 25 years old and still popular. This definitely describes the silver dumbell rattle in the above photos. Suitable as a baby’s first rattle and yet still a favorite choice by a seven month old baby (as in the photos above), this rattle has been popular for many years. Upon seeing this classic baby toy during one of my Stellar Caterpillar lessons, many grandmothers comment, “I used to use one of those rattles with my children!”
A CLASSIC RATTLE: GOOD DESIGN AND FUNCTION
In the field of design there is one important principle that prevails. This is the understanding that excellent design should not only be attractive to look at, but also must function extremely well. We know that the dumbell design of the rattle is pleasing to look at as it is used in probably every fitness gym for the strength training weights, and has been for many years. They come in several sets of varying sizes which means different weights. For baby, the design of this rattle is excellent for motor skill development. You can read our post “Best Baby Rattles” to learn more about rattles and motor skill development in infants.
A DIETARY REVOLUTION
Cereal is often the first food introduced to baby. What a change this is for her! Until now she has been drinking only liquids such as milk or formula. The introduction of a solid food into baby’s diet is a revolution in her dining experience. Not only does the introduction of a solid food present a new texture and flavor, but it also presents a mechanical challenge. She now must learn how to use her tongue to move the cereal around in her mouth. She must coordinate the action of the tongue with the action on swallowing. She may even need to chew a bit which uses the action of her jaw…opening and closing. These actions work together to prepare and swallow the more solid food inside her mouth.
CHOOSE HEALTHY CEREAL FOR BABY
With all the packaged cereals available for baby today, please choose wisely. Select whole-grain baby cereals free of additives. This means free of salt, free of sugar, and free of chemical preservatives. Many vitamins are removed from the cereals when the grain is stripped, thus “whole-grain” is the more nutritious choice.
THE MECHANICS OF FEEDING CEREAL TO BABY
Introduce cereal to baby by giving her just one single teaspoonful so she can experience a new taste and a different texture. Use a small spoon when feeding her. Place the spoonful of cereal at the middle of her tongue. If you place it too close to the front of her mouth, near her lips, she may accidentally push the food out of her mouth as her tongue moves around. When she seems to successfully manage the teaspoonful of cereal over a number of days you can increase the amount to two or three tablespoonsful. Try and feed the solid food before giving her milk or formula because otherwise she may fill up with the liquid and refuse the nutritious solid food.
EATING IS A MOTOR MILESTONE
Remember that eating is one of the Stellar Caterpillar Top 10 Motor Milestones. Just like learning to roll or crawl, there are micro-skills that make up this milestone. For example, baby has to learn to move the food with her tongue before swallowing it. It takes time for her to learn and she learns well when introduced to a new skill in little steps, or should we say, in “small bites.”
BABY FOOD: HOMEMADE VS. STORE BOUGHT
When it is time to add vegetable purees into baby’s diet, the health conscious mother looks for an alternative to the store-bought baby food jars filled with added sugar and salt. One also does not know if the vegetables in the jars were exposed to harmful chemicals such as pesticide residue. The baby food sold in jars has salt added to preserve the food and often sugar is added to enhance the flavor. The healthiest choice is for mother to make baby-food at home with organic vegetables. The lower the intake of salt, sugar, and chemicals, the healthier baby will be. Recently we discussed the importance of monitoring the salt content in baby’s diet as published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
PREPARING VEGETABLE PUREES
Making your own baby food is easy to do if you have a blender or food mill and access to fresh, organic vegetables. Even if you do not have a blender or food mill, you can still make your own baby food at home. Begin by purchasing only organic vegetables. You can peel, wash, chill, grind/puree, and immediately steam the vegatables. Or, you can peel, wash, cook, and then grind/puree. Most blenders have a setting labeled “puree.” The food mill allows you to grind the food into the tiny particles which make a puree. Either tool works fine. Or, one can grate or shred the vegetables if there is no food mill or blender available. Today there are books/websites available on making your own baby food. Have fun with it!
INTRODUCING PUREES TO BABIES
Is baby not eating her vegetables? The method I recommend to mothers for introducing a new food to babies is one I learned from the great nutritionist Dr Carlton Fredericks. In his chapter “The Well-Fed Baby,” from his book Look Younger, Feel Healthier, Dr. Fredericks describes this special technique. “The most successful method is to present the new food combined with a familiar one,” he explains. “Cook it in milk at a simmering temperature of approximately 200 degrees (Farenheit) . The milk should be subsequently used for cream sauces and soups.” Over time, add in less of the familiar food. Remember to always check with your doctor to learn what foods should not be given to baby and at what temperatures food should be heated.
BENEFITS FOR BABY OF HOMEMADE BABY FOOD
- omits sugar content
- free of added salt
- eliminates pesticide/chemical residue when organic vegetables are used
- virtually no nutritional values are sacrificed
“Babies Read Lips Before They Can Speak, Study Shows,” Lauran Neergaard and CBS News Staff, cbsnews.com, 1/17/12.
On the first birthday of one of my Stellar Caterpillars, the father asked me, “She walks so beautifully! Now I can’t wait for her to talk. Do you think you can teach her to talk? I answered, “I can show you how to teach her to talk.” Learning to talk can be broken down into micro-skills they way movement can be broken down into mini-milestones. Recently a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by developmental psychologist David Lewkowicz of Florida Atlantic University confirms that babies learn to speak not just by hearing sounds but also by reading lips.
baby TALKING: ANATOMY LESSON
The moving body parts involved in the action of talking include the lips, tongue and jaw. The lips create the shapes of the mouth that help make the different sounds in speaking. The jaw opens and closes in this process. The tongue moves around inside the mouth to different locations which assists in creating the various sounds we make as well. The intricate coordination of these three body parts create the “movement” of talking.
BABY LIP READING RESEARCH STUDY
The study led by Lewkowicz involved 180 babies at ages 4, 6, 8, and 10 months. Researchers observed babies changing focus on a woman speaking on video in their native language of English and their non-native language of Spanish. The babies’ shifting focus from the lips to the eyes was closely monitored by a gadget placed on a headband.
The researchers found a pattern demonstrating dramatic shift in attention based on the babies’ ages. The 4-month-olds gazed mostly into the eyes, the 6-month-olds spent equal amounts of time looking at the eyes and the mouth, the 8- and 10-month-olds studied mostly the mouth, and at 12 months attention started shifting back toward the speaker’s eyes. When the babies observed the non-native language being spoken, it was necessary to focus on the lips for longer periods of time in order to gain extra information to process the unfamiliar sounds.
BABIES AND LIP READING
The research study led by Lewkowicz is very important because it teaches us the importance of “face-to-face” interaction with baby. Face-to-face interaction can be defined as time when a parent or caregiver puts his or her face quite close (less than 12 inches) to baby and exaggerates words with his or her lips. The words should not be spoken too quickly as babies need time to see what you are doing with your mouth. This visual observation of the moving parts involved in speaking is called “lip reading.” It is the involvement baby’s sense of sight in learning to speak.
Try some face-to-face time with baby while singing a favorite song or repeating one word a few times and exaggerating it with your lips. Don’t be surprised when she reaches out to touch your lips or stick her hand into your mouth. They want to know how you are making those sounds. Next, she will try and imitate you. She will be talking soon!