We all know babies like soft textures; their soft new skin and developing nervous systems are sensitive to texture, making harsh materials feel even rougher. But did you know that being exposed to different textures helps your baby learn?
A Baby’s Sense of Touch
According to Babycentre, an online parenting resource, a baby first develops their sense of touch in the womb. Their sense of touch will continue to develop after birth and through the first year of life.
Babies are born with very sensitive skin, especially on their mouths. Because of this, babies mouth objects to feel and learn about their texture. They will use this sense of touch to explore the world around them, and to communicate with their parents or caregivers.
Touch is the first sense to develop, so even before a baby can clearly see their parents’ faces, they can feel touch, and touch can communicate love and safety to them.
Stimulation and Brain Development
From birth, babies have a desire to learn. These early learning experiences help shape the baby’s brain, and these foundational networks are solidified by age 3 (the brain continues to build on these early foundations for years afterward). The ways in which babies learn in their earliest months are through sensory stimulation.This includes all senses, including touch. They explore their world with all of their senses, and this establishes the basic networks in their brains that allows them to perform more advanced learning later in life. A great way to provide your baby with touch stimulation is to ensure that there’s a variety of textures for them to safely explore and experience. Multi-texture toys are great for this.
Touch and Language Acquisition
In order to learn language, babies listen to the noises around them, but how do they differentiate between sounds that are meaningful (language) and sounds that aren’t (noise)? A study from Purdue University found that touch plays a role here. They found that touching babies when saying a word helped the baby identify that sound as a meaningful one. So in this case, a combination of sensory inputs, sound and touch, assist babies during their first moments of language acquisition; listening to parents and caregivers, and receiving touch signals from them.
Strength and Coordination
We may not think of this as a kind of learning, but for babies they’re building the parts of the brain that allow them to move their limbs more accurately. From ages 0-2, manipulating different kinds of materials with different weights and textures help them do this. Newborn babies even have to learn to use their hands to grasp things, and having soft toys with a variety of textures and materials help them to do this in a safe way, letting them grab soft objects using first their fingers and then even their thumbs! Soft toys will also survive being grabbed, tugged, mouthed, punched, and thrown without breaking into dangerous pieces. Babies also learn about where their bodies are in space by reaching out for a beloved toy, to their caregivers, or a security blanket when they want it. This also helps develop coordination and muscular strength.
A Word About Safety
So we can see that presenting your infant with lots of sensory experiences helps them learn about their environment and sets up networks for future learning. Providing toys and other objects with different textures and weights help with this, but it’s important to ensure that soft toys are baby safe, with no hard objects that can come loose and become choking hazards. Your baby will put things in their mouth; that’s part of how they learn! Also make sure that the infant is supervised when interacting with these toys and blankets to ensure they’re not suffocation hazards until they reach twelve months of age. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, that’s the age at which it is safe for babies to sleep with blankets, loose bedding, and soft toys.