In the last month or so information about five crucial school readiness domains were provided as a way for parents to feel empowered as well as to support them in digging deeper as to “why” the advice of “talk, sing and read to your baby” is so important. Information was shared about why the advice to “talk, sing, read” to young children is important for their development of expressive language (i.e., babies/toddlers’ use of language), receptive language (i.e., babies/toddlers’ understanding of language), speech/articulation, understanding/use of emotions and social skill understanding/ability. This week, the focus is on sensory processing skills, which are also necessary for children to be successful in school.
A child’s success in the classroom is most dependent upon his ability to take in his world through hearing, seeing and moving. Successful “navigation” of the sensory world is required throughout the school day as a child moves through noisy hallways or eats lunch in a noisy cafeteria. It is required when the teacher says, “Use your blue crayon to circle all the animals on your paper, and your yellow crayon to circle all the vehicles.” A child with well-developed sensory processing is able to learn despite a classmate moving around the classroom or despite the sun glaring in through the window. HIs ability to learn is not affected by people talking in the hallway or the sound of traffic outside when he is listening to a story during circle time. To truly be ready for school, a child must be able to organize what comes to him from the environment and use his senses to function successfully throughout his day. And, he must not operate with one dominant sense to the exclusion of using any of the others when necessary. Although every child is born with a dominant, or preferred, way of taking in the world (e.g., by looking, listening or doing), a child is better-prepared for school if he has been taught and encouraged to use all of the senses for learning.
So, let’s ask ourselves again: why do we “talk, sing, read” to babies and toddlers? It’s because these activities build connections in their brains that lead to sensory processing development which is necessary to learn in a classroom setting. The following skills are an absolute necessity for school readiness by the age of 36 months with regard to sensory processing:
- Use more than one sense at a time (e.g., listen and look, look and do, listen and do, smell and look, feel and do, see and feel, etc.).
- Combine all senses for learning (e.g., After a child sees a new fruit, she asks for the fruit’s name. After she hears the name of the fruit, she asks to taste the fruit. After she tastes it, she says “Mmmm, that’s sweet like candy!”).
- Filter out unnecessary sensory information.
- Suppress, or “quiet,” his dominant or preferred mode of taking in the world in order to use one or more of the other senses, when required (e.g., Even though a child likes/prefers looking at pictures in a book very much, she can “quiet” her visual processing to hear the story being told.
- Balance his day evenly with activities that require one sense at a time or that require him to use his non-dominant or least-preferred sense (e.g., spend part of his day listening to music, part of his day looking at pictures in books, and part of his day climbing and running; spend time listening to his mom talk to their neighbor even though he prefers putting puzzles together, etc)
- Play with a variety of toys of different textures, weights, etc.
- Tolerate a variety of sounds, visuals, smells, textures, foods, etc.
- Calm down easily.
- Enjoy moving through space in a variety of ways (e.g., upside down, sideways, swinging, etc.)
- Recognize when she is wet or dry (for toilet training).
- Separate well from both parents or caregivers.
- Use both sides of her body to manipulate and explore his environment, to complete tasks, etc.
- Tolerate getting his hands or face dirty.
- Walk and run relatively well.
- Pay attention during play with an adult or peer for as long as the interaction would naturally take place (e.g., A child will stay engaged in play until the play “ends” either because there isn’t enough time to keep playing or because the “fun” has gone out of the play, such as with a puzzle being completed, a doll being completely dressed, fed and put to sleep, or figures that are firemen “fighting” a fire, driving back to the station and parking there for the night.).
- Demonstrate solid digital and technological fluency and understanding.
- Process sensory information in order to manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information. A child who can watch TV, turn to talk to his sibling not he sofa next to him, take bites of his sandwich on the plate that he is balancing on his lap, while the dishwasher is running loudly, the dog is barking and the bright sunlight is coming through the window, is a typical example of a child who is able to process multiple streams of simultaneous information successfully (e.g., filtering out information that is not needed, does not get overwhelmed when there are multiple streams of sensory information).
To be sure, once parents and caregivers know the skills that are needed in classrooms to demonstrate sensory processing skills after the age of 36 months, they are able to be more conscious about how to talk, read and sing to babies and toddlers from 0-36 months of age. They can plan activities (or be spontaneous while feeding, bathing, etc.) armed with the “why” behind choosing certain words, certain books or certain songs which are beneficial and crucial to school readiness by the age of 36 months.
Related resources regarding building sensory processing skills in babies and toddlers for school readiness by 36 months of age:
**Check out the Operation Ready by 3 website at http://www.operationreadyby3.org for more information about parent/caregiver coaching and classes designed to get babies and toddlers ready for school by 36 months and/or to contact Operation Ready by 3 with questions and comments.
**Follow Operation Ready by 3 on Twitter: @Readyby3
Cindi Zarpas Stevens is the creator/founder of Operation Ready by 3 (her mission) and the president of Norfolk Speech & Language Services, Inc. (her day job that pays). She is a mother of 5 (her unpaid, 24-7 job). In her work as a writer (her passion), she supports parents, caregivers and early childhood educators as they navigate Babyland and Toddlerland with greater consciousness, ease, confidence, expertise and joy. She thinks the best job in the world is talking to parents, caregivers and educators about babies and toddlers (they’re amazing, fun and adorable) about ideas such as sharing power with their child (it’s peaceful and positive) while at the same time having power within themselves (it’s affirming and empowering) to be the best parent, caregiver, and educator they can be in order to get the children in their lives ready for school by the age of 36 months (to make the world a better place).