Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse

Tune Into Your Child’s Sensory Experience to Support Development and Learning

Young children in early intervention (EI) may need extra support and patience as they explore the sensory world around them. Together, families and the EI team can plan for enjoyable sensory play and experiences that can give them the extra support they need to confidently explore their world.

Caregivers may wonder about these big variations in behavior among children. Caregivers may want to know which responses to these experiences are typical and which are not (atypical). A caregiver may even find that a child could show interest and fear at different times—even in response to the same experience. How is it possible that the responses of children could be so different? Families and the EI team can work together to figure out a child’s pattern and support her unique developmental needs. Consider the examples below:

“Beep, beep—vroom!” Joey, a 9-month-old infant, loves riding in the car. He smiles and kicks his legs and waves his arms when his mom puts him in the car. His mom hears him giggling when they drive on bumpy roads and when the engine revs up. Lily, also 9 months old, dislikes riding in the car. She cries when her dad buckles the car seat and screams when the engine rumbles or the horn beeps.

“Splish, splash, bubble bubble!” Hui, a 12-month-old, crawls over to the bathtub with a big smile on her face and pulls up on the edge of the tub when she hears the water running. After her grandma places her in the bath, she kicks her legs and plunges her hands into the water. Brandon, also 12 months old, crawls away from the bathroom when he hears the water running and protests when his mom puts him in the bathtub. He reaches up his arms toward her with a frown on his face.

In the above examples, both responses are typical of young children’s behavior. Infants and toddlers are developing their ability to process and understand different sensory experiences. It is helpful for adults to remind themselves that the world is a new place for them. These very young children are discovering what kinds of textures, sounds, tastes, smells, and sights the world contains and what these experiences feel like to their bodies and what these experiences mean.

Electric hand dryers, flushing toilets, thunderstorms, and fire sirens are all loud sounds. Some children hear these sounds and are frightened. Others hear these sounds and are very excited and interested. In time, children learn what these sounds mean. For example, the flashing lights and sirens from a fire truck mean firefighters are going to help someone. Knowing the sounds means someone in trouble is receiving help, and getting used to the volume and intensity of the sound of the siren after hearing it many times can make this sensory experience less scary.

Families and EI providers can tune into a child’s sensory experience by watching her response to different sounds, tastes, textures, smells, and sights. Does she go toward loud sounds or turn away from them? Does he like vigorous swinging or does he cry in the swing? Does she laugh and smile at light tickly touches on her toes or relax and respond to firm pressure on her feet? By observing these differences, caregivers and an EI team can work together to provide opportunities that are “just right” for an individual child and help her learn about her world. This EI Clearinghouse newsletter will provide you with resources and ideas for everyday sensory play that can support the learning and development of young children.

Originally written in collaboration with the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Staff for the Fall 2016 Newsletter

Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse

Everyday Fun: Spaces!

Familiar spaces are comfortable places to learn and grow. There are many familiar places to take your child regularly, such as the library, the grocery store, or the doctor’s office. For you, they are routine, but for young children, these places are fascinating and new.

Infants and toddlers with and without disabilities naturally explore the world, and they are excited to discover the “new” in their spaces. Perhaps you have seen an infant looking intently at a toy that is just out of arms reach. She might stretch her arm as far as she can until she finds herself rolling onto her belly and grasping the toy. You may have seen a toddler crouching on the sidewalk to watch ants crawl. He might point to the ants and look at his mom with a puzzled expression to let her know he wants to know more about these insects. Curiosity motivates all young children to explore the spaces around them. Opportunities to learn and grow happen naturally when we tune into this curiosity and share in the excitement of discovery with children.

Many families experience challenges when balancing household tasks, community obligations, early intervention, and work. Laundry, cooking, EI providers, and errands always seem to take more time than we expect. The day fills up quickly when you add busy children playing and making a mess to the mix. Families may feel even more time pressure when they try to think of ways to incorporate EI strategies into everyday routines in familiar and new spaces. Adults can more easily do this when they tune into the excitement and curiosity that infants and toddlers have about exploring their spaces. Your child is like a traveler in a new land, and you are the tour guide! A good tour guide talks about everything he sees, smells, touches, and tastes.

Want to make the most of your time with your child to help them grow? Look at your spaces and find many opportunities to explore and grow together. Awaken your senses as you go about your day. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

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Enjoy the outdoors! Your child may notice the birds, squirrels, and plants outside.

  • Watch your child’s face to see where she is looking. The outdoors is a great opportunity to build language skills.
  • Talk with your child about what she is seeing. You can expose her to rich vocabulary words when describing the colors you see, sounds you hear, and scents you smell. You are introducing your child to concepts such as opposites when you describe the warm sun versus the cold snow. These conversations build her cognitive abilities.
  • Make time to climb or cruise around the playground to build your child’s gross motor skills. Crawling is a new experience when you are moving on the soft grass.

Discover treasures indoors! Your home has treasures that your child will enjoy discovering.

  • Your kitchen space may be filled with safe items to discover, such as wooden spoons, measuring cups, and unbreakable bowls. Practice stacking and nesting these items with your child. This builds his spatial awareness. Pretend to cook and feed each other with older infants and toddlers. Pretend play is a natural way to develop social skills such as turn-taking and manners.
  • You might place a few “treasure baskets” in different rooms of your home where you can put items that are safe for your child to explore. Remember, even the laundry basket is full of interesting textures, colors, shapes, and sizes to talk about!
  • Help your child master gross-motor spaces such as stairs, ramps, and furniture.

Tour new places and familiar spaces!

  • Many places that you visit regularly are routine to you but may be fascinating and new to your child. You can explore the library, the grocery store, or the doctor’s office with your child. Explain what others might be doing as they move around you.
  • Adventure out with your child to a new place that makes you curious. This may help you share the excitement of discovery that your child experiences in familiar places.
  • Walk at a different playground, stroll around a museum, or explore a local cultural festival. Ask questions and wait for your child to answer or indicate his interest by turning his eyes toward you or pointing at things he sees. Respond to your own questions and be a language model for your child.
 Originally written in collaboration with the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Staff for the Spring 2016 Newsletter.


Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse

Healthy Sleep Key to First Few Years

You give your toddler a kiss, tuck her in her little bed, and then she cries, “No! No night night! Don’t go!” You hand her a favorite toy bunny, tell her you will be around the corner, and close the door. You hear tiny feet shuffling down the hallway just as you enter the kitchen to finish the dinner dishes. Your toddler is out of bed. You walk her back to her bed. You tuck her in and close the door. She returns a few minutes later. You let out a big sigh and walk her down the hall again.

Tonight’s game of bedtime ping-pong is going strong. Your child is the ball and she’s bouncing between her bed and the kitchen. You are frustrated and tired. You start to wonder whether the bedtime fight is worth your energy. Where is the coach with a pep talk that can keep you motivated in this tough moment so you can help your child sleep? Here are a few reasons to keep trying to win the bedtime game:

Healthy sleep promotes brain development. The brains of infants and toddlers are growing during sleep times. The brain grows rapidly during this time of life. Sleep times during the first three years of life are especially important for healthy brain development.

Healthy sleep promotes self-regulation. Self-regulation refers to how the brain and body work together to control emotions, attention, and thoughts. Self-regulation is the foundation of early childhood development. A well-rested child has an easier time coping with big emotions and transitions through the day. Proper rest helps children sustain attention during play. Well-rested children have an easier time learning and exploring new things because of their increased ability to self-regulate.

Healthy sleep is important for physical health. New research indicates proper rest is connected to healthy growth patterns. A well-rested child is better able to fight off illness, maintain a healthy body weight, and have better overall physical health. Certain hormones that help with the repair and growth of cells are only released during deep sleep. Research also indicates that the whole family’s health is improved when parents and other adults who live with young children get healthy sleep.

Mindfulness, or being aware of our own feelings in the moment, can be an important way to manage stress. Bedtime battles are stressful for caregivers during all stages of early development.

Challenges can begin from the newborn days with a fussy baby who is difficult to soothe, into the infant stage when your baby stands in the crib crying, and continue to the toddler times when your child keeps leaving his bed for one more kiss or hug.

If your child was in the neonatal intensive care unit or has had health issues that interfere with sleep such as sleep apnea, you may find yourself continuing to worry about your child’s health during sleep. Your child senses your stress level, and this can make it hard for a child to calm down. This is because young children and their caregivers are connected through emotions.

As a caregiver, try taking a few deep breaths and saying to yourself or your child, “I’m helping you with sleep so your brain and body can grow.” Imagine warm and cozy thoughts. Remember that your children’s sleep space is a haven that allows them time to grow and develop.

This mindful self-talk can help you keep focused on your goal of helping your child sleep. Being calm in the moment can help you soothe your child. Talk with your child’s health care providers or your EI providers to come up with a sleep plan that is workable for your family.

This issue’s EI Note contains ideas for creating a healthy sleep space and routine for your child, and we hope you will find many ideas that will help your family have restful and restorative sleep so you will have energy to play and learn together.

Originally written for the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse Fall 2015 Newsletter