Adults take their senses largely or granted. Though we use them every walking hour, we hardly ever use them to their full potential. How many of us, after all, actually stop to smell those roses? or to listen to the chatter of the bird? Or to savour the taste of the orange in our breakfast marmalade? Or let our fingertips revel in the textures of everything we touch, our eyes appreciate every beautiful sight?
Toddlers, on the other hand, not only stop to smell the roses, they stop to look at them, touch them, and more than likely, taste them. They use their senses the way the scientist uses the laboratory. It’s through these five miraculous resources that toddlers make their discoveries about the complex world they live in, discoveries that come fast and furious during this intensely curios stage of development.
Even without encouragement, a toddler will instinctively tap into these natural resources. With your encouragement, your child will utilize them even more fully. Use the following as a guide to stimulating your toddler’s sensory perceptions and to inspire and to inspire your own toddler stimulating strategies.
Because your toddler have not yet developed the ability to pick and choose visually, everything within their range of vision vies for their attention. The park is a kinetic kaleidoscope: tall trees, brightly coloured flowers, a little girl circling on a tricycle, a boy zipping past on roller skates, a man pushing a pram, a woman jogging, a squirrel nosing around for acorns, a dog chasing a butterfly. With so much to see, it’s not easy for a toddler’s untrained eyes to focus on just one part of the picture for more than a fleeting moment.
You can help your toddler practise focusing by calling attention to one object in the scene at a time. At first, keep it simple: ‘Look at the girl on the pink tricycle. She’s riding the tricycle.’ When your toddler is a bit older, you can begin adding other details: ‘She’s a good rider. Look at the girl’s hair – there’s pretty red ribbon in her hair. And her trousers have red flowers on them.’
Play the ‘looking’ game everywhere you go. Try it in settings that are virtual visual feasts – the beach, he zoo, a crowded city pavement – and in setting that seem visually less exciting – the doctor’s surgery, the supermarket can park, the post office. Visually explore objects that you and your toddler have seen dozens of time, challenging her to spot something new in the familiar, as well as objects that you’ve never seen before. The ‘looking’ game will not only be visually invigorating for a toddler but will (as you associate sights worth words) help speed her speech development and turn potentially tedious and fussy times (when you’re waiting your turn at the sandwich bar, for instance) into time well-spent.
Like yours toddler’s eyes, your toddler’s are bombarded daily. Even at home, the auditory competition is fierce: There’s music from the radio, a clock ticking, a dog barking in the neighbour’s garden, a siren wailing streets away, an aeroplane flying overhead, Mummy talking on the telephone, a fan whirling in the kitchen. Encouraging a toddler to focus on a single sound – to shut out the others so that one sound can be fully appreciated – provides a good exercise for young ears.
Flex your toddler’s auditory muscles by playing the ‘listening’ game. Call his or her attention to sounds as you sit in the living room, ride in the car, or walk through the park. ‘Do you hear that siren (whoo, whooo, whooo)? That sounds lie a fire engine. ‘Do you hear the birdie singing, (tweet, tweet tweet)? It sounds pretty.’ ‘Do you hear the aeroplane up in the sky? Isn’t it loud?’ As your child gets older and comprehends more, you can add more details: ‘We can’t see the bird because it’s too high up in the tree, but we can hear the singing.’ ‘The fire engine is going to fire.’ ‘I wonder where the aeroplane is going. Maybe to California, where Gran lives.’
Toddler’s nose are fairly undiscerning – which probably explains why the odour of their own soiled nappies doesn’t offend them as much as it does those around them. And why they’ll cuddle up without reservation to a parent who’s just downed a garlicky Caesar salad when everyone else in the house is staying safely upwind. And why, unfortunately, their noses don’t stop them for sampling dangerous substances such as cleaning fluids or spoiled food) that would smell noxious to an older child or to an adult.
Sniff as you go, too. When you’re walking through the park, smell the lilacs and the honeysuckle, the pine needles and the freshly mowed grass. When you’re at the market, smell the lemons, the oranges, the fresh herbs, the baked goods, the barbecuing chickens.
With older, more adventurous toddlers, ‘smelling’ guessing games can be played blindfolded or with eyes closed. Have your toddler try to identify items by shell as you hold them up his or her nose (aftershave, a ripe banana, toasted bread, strawberries).
Most toddlers are somewhat less open to expanding the horizons of their taste buds than they are to other sensory adventurous. For a child who won’t open wide for anything that doesn’t look like a biscuit, trailblazing, gastronomic roadways may be met with tightly clenched teeth instead of early parted lips.
Toddler use their senses of taste to explore the nonedibles in their environment too. Though they may use their mouths less often than they did as babies, some toddlers are still mouthing objects. Which means that special attention must be paid to what your child gets his or her hands on; whatever it is, it’s sure to get shoved into a ready mouth.
Toddler discover so much about their world through their fingertips. Often, from a parent’s point of view, too much. They discover, for instances, that tearing pages out of the magazine is fun. And that manipulating the VCR remote is exhilarating (especially after having been told repeatedly to stop.
Considering how much mischief toddlers manage to get into through touching, it’s not surprising that they often receive less encouragement to use and develop this sense than any other. But touch can teach toddlers a lot. And encouraging toddlers to touch in a safe, childproofed environment will not only help them build up this tactile sense, it will also help minimize the daily frustration of living in a world where so much is off-limits.