Continuing on our activity we started earlier this summer, the teachers give the infants different types of food every Friday to allow them to explore and engage in sensory play. This past Friday, the infants were given the opportunity to investigate cantaloupe, cucumbers, and potatoes!
Similar to how we encouraged this type of play in the past, we allowed the children to explore the fruits and vegetables individually and as a group. The infants loved sucking on the cantaloupe and cucumber. We also observed many of the children rub their hands against the rough skin of the cantaloupe, engaging in sensory play by feeling the texture of the outer layer and comparing it to another texture, like the soft insides of the fruit. The potatoes were a popular item as well. The infants enjoyed sucking on potato slices and studying the texture of the potato skin.
Often times we observed the infants sinking their gums into the soft fruit and vegetable insides and suck and gnaw on it for a considerable amount of time. Around this age, infants typically begin exploring objects with their mouths. Parents will often witness their children put anything and everything into their mouths. Children do this in order to explore the world and make sense of it in their own way. Whether they’re making noises or sticking foreign objects (or even food) into their mouths, this is an exploration process for them. Moreover, “mouthing” appears to coincide with the development and production of consonants. Studies have suggested that vocalization occurs more frequently when an infant places an object in his or her mouth than when they is mouthing their hands and fingers. According to Dr. Suzanne Evans Morris, in each child’s first month’s of life, their main avenue for learning and exploration is through their mouths: whether they’re sucking on their fingers, edge of a blanket, pacifier, bottle, or any other object. Through this type of mouthing the baby becomes familiar with general sensations of softness, firmness, and hardness. By allowing the children to explore different objects, tastes, and textures in a way that is natural for them, we are encouraging their sensory and oral motor development.
“Learning occurs when children can manipulate and choose materials and can freely use their whole bodies and all their senses. According to early childhood experts Geraldine French and Patricia Murphy, active learning in infants and toddlers is “the process by which they explore the world either through: observing (gazing at their hand), listening, touching (stroking an arm or bottle), reaching, grasping, mouthing, letting go, moving their bodies (kicking, turning, crawling, walking), smelling, tasting, or making things happen with objects around them” – Shannon Lockhart
We thoroughly enjoyed observing the infants examine and study the fruits and vegetables. At one point we cut the cantaloupe in half and gave each child a half-piece. The children were elated to dig their fingers in the soft core of the cantaloupe and compare the soft and cool texture on the inside to the hard and rough texture on the outside of the cantaloupe.
This simple activity is an excellent example of sensory play for infants. They were able to touch, feel, taste, smell, and see natural foods, opening their mind to different textures, tastes, densities, colors, sizes and smells. Sensory play with infants has been proven to improve motor skills, cognitive development, creativity, social development, raise awareness of how the world works, contribute to language acquisition, and is a therapeutic experience.