When you wake up in the morning, or when you lie down for a rest during the day and close your eyes, you don’t even need to open them again to know what position your body is in, right? You just know if you are lying on your back, side, or stomach. You know exactly where your hands and legs are…
And not only that: If someone asked you to put your right index finger on the tip of your nose without looking, or to bend your knee to a 90-degree angle, you would probably do these things very precisely and without putting much thought into it.
Have you ever wondered HOW DO WE DO THESE THINGS? How is it even possible that, without looking, we can tell what position our body is in — if our arms are bent or straight, if both of our legs are in the same (or maybe slightly different) positions?
How is it that we know the precise angle at which our arm or leg is bent if our eyes don’t take part in that process? And… why do we actually need this kind of knowledge?
The answer to the first question is… because of our SENSES. In this particular case, it’s the so-called sense of proprioception — also known as a sense of space. This, in conjunction with the sense of balance, helps us to “find ourselves” in the surrounding world; and perceive the interdependencies between different parts of our body. It is a kind of “personal GPS” which, if working properly, enables us to:
- react properly to stimuli
…so that we can plan movements which are of good quality while exerting as little effort as possible — all without losing our balance.
Pretty ingenious, right?
It’s a GPS device that is free, updates on its own, and is given to us just like that. 😉
The only thing it needs from us is the opportunity to integrate with our other senses, have new sensory experiences every day, and face new challenges — so that its owner can function even better in the surrounding world.
A WORLD OF SENSES
I don’t think I need to convince anyone that our SENSES play a huge role in our daily lives. Thanks to them, we are able to receive stimuli — incentives which can evoke certain bodily reactions. We can see that the sun is shining, we can taste our soup, we can hear someone knocking on the door, and we can recognize that smell telling us that our baby’s diaper needs to be changed… now!
But the senses are not just sight, taste, hearing, or smell…
There are also other very important — I’ll even dare to say FOUNDATIONAL — senses which we tend to take for granted because they just EXIST. These include the senses of:
What good does it do if you know that you need to season your soup — when your body is completely unable to organize its movements in such a way as to reach for the salt, measure the right amount of it, and pour it into the pot?
And, so what if you can see the sun but are unable to enjoy a walk because your body gets tired quickly, you lose your balance often, your movements require a lot of effort, and, when you want to put on your sunglasses, you are not able to adjust them on your face?
And that’s the point…
So, despite the fact that we rarely notice the existence of those sensory systems, they work like superheroes in the background.
They operate quietly — and often without any recognition — but it’s a sure thing that the show can’t go on without them…
GREAT, BUT THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT CHILDREN! DOES THIS ALL HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THEM?
Contrary to what you might think, it does — A LOT!
We know that if we want to function properly in the surrounding world, our individual senses need to cooperate with each other.
Sensory integration is a process in which a baby hones the skills of understanding, analyzing, and organizing different stimuli that he or she receives — not only from the environment, but also from within his or her own body.
In order for the individual sensory systems to work together properly, they need, first and foremost, experiences and time. Development is a PROCESS after all; and, although we know that infancy and early childhood are the periods in which so much of that is happening, the processes related to sensory integration take place throughout our whole lives.
Bottom line: The three senses which develop intensively when a child is still in the womb — and which play a foundational role in a child’s development — are the senses of touch, balance, and space.
Thanks to these senses, a young child can acquire something that is extremely important: The child can learn his or her body scheme, develop consciousness, discover boundaries, and learn how to function in a world ruled by the force of gravity. In a real sense, the child is able to FIND him or herself in the surrounding environment…
Is the sense of sight enough for us to move through a door frame if we don’t recognize where our body “ends”?
If we are not able to “feel” our own body well enough to plan a movement which relates properly to the challenge ahead of us, will we be able to go through the door and enter the next room without any difficulties?
And, if we don’t adjust the speed and direction of our movement — or don’t slow it down at the right moment — won’t we fall down or bump into other people and objects way too often?
See my point?
Indeed, this topic is vast enough to require more than one book be written about it.
But that’s not the goal here…
My goal is to convince you to try and support your child’s development in a thoughtful way: To follow and observe, but also to give him or her the necessary opportunities to experience the world.
Movement is something that helps us develop. That is why there’s so much talk about the role of physical activity in our lives — but it’s especially important for children, from the time of infancy to preschool or beyond.
Now, let’s think for a moment about what the modern world offers us every day.
Let’s consider whether the experiences the child encounters after coming into this world really support the development of the aforementioned “foundational senses.”
Isn’t it quite common nowadays to tell a new mom that she carries her child too much, and that the child will become accustomed to it — ultimately creating a problem? It’s like moms are discouraged from even hugging their own children; BUT, at the same time, these children get bombarded with a huge amount of light and sound stimuli from the very beginning! And I don’t mean here the sound of a parent’s calm voice. As you probably will agree, some toys can easily get on your nerves in a very short time. In this, please keep in mind that an adult person has well-developed sensory systems — in significant contrast to those of little children.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about children who have sensory difficulties. Is it possible that many of these cases could be prevented — or at least partially mitigated — if we replaced some of those colorful toys or TV screens with fun playtime activities that help the child improve awareness of his or her own body?
There’s so much we could do:
- building obstacle courses,
- massages (but only if the child enjoys them),
- pushing and carrying somewhat heavier toys,
- rolling, crawling, standing on one leg, jumping, rolling a large ball…
Playtime activities like these cost us nothing — while the benefits that they bring are immense!
In the future, I will discuss the topic of choosing the best playtime activities for different age groups. But for now, I just want to remind you that ENCOURAGING YOUR CHILD TO KNOW HIS OR HER OWN BODY WHILE BUILDING ITS SCHEMA is the absolute basis for everything else! Also, remember that the senses of touch, space, and balance develop most intensively until the age of three.
You may also be interested in:
Who knew that foundational senses could be so much fun!? Find out how to develop your baby’s sense of touch, space, and balance with fun playtime activities — from birth to first steps — in my e-book:
E-book: A COLLECTION OF IDEAS FOR THE MOST FUN PLAYTIME WITH YOUR CHILD: