Tag Archives: touch


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When developing baby’s first library please include a few counting books.  One of Stellar Caterpillar’s favorites, of course, is Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”  We love all things caterpillar because it is a symbol of both articulated movement and transformational growth.  In Carle’s book the caterpillar of the story has a big appetite prior to going inside his cocoon and eventually breaking free as  beautiful butterfly.  Several pages in the book are designed to help baby learn to count.  They are cleverly shortened and each item of food has a hold punched in it to assist in counting.  This uses baby’s sense of touch to learn counting.  As you model the touch by taking your index finger and poking each of the holes as you say “1, 2, 3,” she will soon learn to touch the holes in the same way.  The variation in page width engages baby’s curiosity and one of the reasons young infants love this baby book.


The story is about the caterpillar’s appetite.  The reader counts the foods, both healthy and unhealthy, that he eats.  There is a subtle message about baby health and how eating green foods make you feel better as the caterpillar recovers from a binge on pie, cake and other sweets by eating a nice big green leaf.  Another subtle diet message is about the need to eat in order to grow.  The caterpillar’s appetite turns ravenous prior to the creation of his cocoon.  This is useful as baby enters the toddler years and embraces her strong will at the dinner table with forceful expressions of “No.”


“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is also a very colorful book.  The prominent colors are bright colors that baby sees easily:  red, green, yellow, and blue.  For the young babies, point out the colors and as you name them, “Red.”   Watch the beautifully animated video above from Mandy Banester’s youtube channel, and you will see the colors of the story are the bright colors from the natural world around us.  Colors include those of the sun,  plants and beautiful fresh fruits.


With every book you read to baby, find two or three words that are simple first words for baby.  Each time you read the book, say those words clearly to her and invite her to repeat them.  A few easy words in the caterpillar story are egg, sun, leaf, and apple.  This is the beginning of speech development for baby.  With repetition, she will enjoy saying the words too!



With respect to babies and motor skill development, there are pros and cons to electronic books.  With the rise of electronic tablets such as iPads in both homes and schools, babies and toddlers are increasingly exposed to them.  Sometimes a curious infant gets her hands on one in order to examine whatever mom or dad is using, sometimes she is handed the iPad to entertain her, and sometimes mom reads her an e-book on the electronic tablet.   The pros and cons of using these devices remain uncertain since they are new inventions and it takes a few years to develop and carry out research studies.   It will take a few more years before we know what studies reveal about the use of these “tools” for baby play and children’s learning.

With the absence of much research, the next best information sources are the opinions of various professionals who have worked with babies and children in the field of human development.  Two recent Wall Street Journal articles, “What Happens When Toddlers Zone Out On An iPad,” and “Once Upon a (Virtual)Time,” attempt to do just that.  Written by a father whose own son liked to zone out on his Daddy’s iPad, author Ben Worthen consults experts in neuroscience and child development as well as other parents on the topic of children and electronic tablets.


The Pros of iPad use apply primarily to toddlers and children, rather than babies.  For example, one obvious benefit with tablets is that touch screen technology remains accessible to young users whose fingers are not large enough to manipulate a mouse or keyboard.  For toddlers and young children, some studies show noticeable increase in vocabulary with the use of certain apps.  Another benefit for toddlers is that the ipad directs their focus. They are drawn to touch the screen where the action occurs.  With a TV set toddlers look away from it about 150 times an hour, according to WSJ, because they do not know where on the screen to focus their eyes and attention.  Thus, the iPad may be a better entertainment option than a TV set for toddlers and children.  Several parents express the entertainment value of the iPad with their child for long airplane flights or other occasions where they would like to keep the child quiet for long periods of time.  Please read our post “TV and Babies” for more information about the effects of television on baby’s development.


I’m writing about the Cons of electronic tablet use with the idea that the optimal developmental experience for babies and children includes some exposure to electronics. However, ultimately, encouraging physical and cognitive development is the most important consideration when making choices for baby’s toys and children’s gadgets.  Some developmental experts express concerns that the electronic tablets cut short the process of exploration since the app programs have ending points whereas play time with toys such as blocks may continue until the child decides she is finished.

The WSJ article suggests that more learning takes place during the reading of board books because of the dialog exchange between parent and baby or toddler.  The parent can observe what the baby is interested in and prompt further learning such as, “I see you like the dog.  Is she sleeping like our dog sleeps?  Where is the dog on this page?”, etc.

Here are some additional points for parents to keep in mind.  Remember that babies are still developing their eyesight and, with an electronic tablet, the eyes remain focused within the limits of the small screen.  Toys and board books encourage more eye movement because the dimensions of the visual playing or reading field are much larger than a tablet screen. Board book skills use more muscles and joints in the body than ebooks which primarily use finger tapping.

Books for babies are an integral part of speech development as well.  Babies often hear parents read the story and focus on their face and lips rather than the book. They are fascinated with how mommy creates words and closely watch the shapes of her lips and try to imitate them.  If the ebook is reading to baby she is not able to observe the process of how speech occurs.   For these reasons, Stellar Caterpillar highly recommends that parents include board books in baby’s first library.

For more in our series on babies and technology, please read “TV and Babies,” “Electronic Gadgets Pose Safety Risk,” and “Baby Toys:  Unplugged vs. Electronic.”



Donna Eshelman uses hands to show baby how to move her hips.

A Stellar Caterpillar instructor shows baby how to feel her leg initiate a roll.

Question from a reader:  My baby learned how to roll from her back to her tummy.  Do you have any tips on how to guide her from her tummy to her back?

Stellar Caterpillar:  Every movement skill begins with proprioception of the body parts that generate the movement.  In the motor skill of rolling, the leg and pelvis are the initiators of the movement.  The pelvis is a large bone that connects to the spine, so when it begins to roll it takes the torso, arms, and head with it.  In the top photo, Donna is showing Zizu how she can move her pelvis right and left, in rotation.  This is the movement that ultimately rolls baby from the tummy to the back.  By placing hands firmly on the hip joints, the place where the thigh meets the pelvis, baby increases her awareness of that area.  When she feels those bones more clearly she can move them more easily.  In the bottom photo, Donna shows Zizu how the leg initiates the rotation of the pelvis.  As baby learns to bend her leg up and in toward her hip, the pelvis will begin to rotate and she will roll onto her back.


Not only does Pat The Bunny make it into Baby’s First Library, it makes it to the top of the list.  This is possibly the most commonly gifted baby book.  Published in 1940 and with over 6 million copies in print, this story is unique because it involves most of the five senses.  Opportunities to smell, touch, and see are found on the pages within.  Dorothy Kundhardt’s simple story journeys through activities that you can share with baby.  Invite baby to pat the furry bunny, smell the flowers, and look into a shiny mirror.  It makes a clever introduction to reading books since baby’s senses are very much a part of her motivation for every movement she makes.  She crawls to get to a toy so she can touch and feel it.  She reaches to grasp an object so she can bring it closer where she can see it better and fully examine it.  Her senses evoke her curiosity which motivate her movement and now her reading, too!

Pat the Bunny: by Dorothy Kundhardt. (New York:  Golden Books, 1940)


A baby receives motor skill instruction through hands-on guidance by her teacher.


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.


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.


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.


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.



baby learns to crawl with open fingersbaby learns to crawl with open fingersbaby learns to crawl with open fingersbaby learns to crawl with open fingers


At 7 months, Madison is crawling beautifully.  The motor skill of crawling is important for many reasons, and one of those is the development of baby’s hands.  She is now weight bearing on hands and knees as she locomotes around the house.  This develops strength in her arms and back.  Because she is shifting her weight in this position, she is developing the muscles in her shoulders as well as the strength of her bones.  The skill development is faciliatated by open fingers on her hands.  She can support her weight more easily and shift her weight more efficiently with extended fingers.  For several months she has been grasping and shaking objects, which uses closed fists.  Now, the motor skill of crawling demands an open palm and extended fingers on both hands.


Some babies continue to hold their grasp closed or their fingers slightly curled under as they crawl.  Through the sense of touch we can show them the more efficient use of the hands, with the open palm and extended fingers.  In the above photos, Madison is learning to extend her fingers as she crawls.  I can use my hand to gently open Madison’s fingers and then touch the open fingers to show her how long and extended her fingers can be.  As I touch her fingers, she pays more attention to them.  In the second photo she stops crawling to look down and see what I am doing.  We make the brain pay attention to part of the body as we touch it, this is the foundational theory of neuromuscular body methods.  Soon, Madison imitates me by putting her hand deliberately on my fingers.  At this age, this imitation of my action is a sign that she is learning what I am teaching her or that we are working with the hands.  With repetition, her brain will change the signal so she crawls with extended fingers, the more efficient option.  Often babies begin to crawl faster with this improved pattern.