One of the things that you may notice about toys for very small people, such as babies and toddlers, is that they all seem to include a variety of different materials and textures. They are likely to also include a range of bright colours, and also to make a variety of sounds. It is clearly important that small children are stimulated as much as possible, and it seems that a full on assault on their senses is the best way to do this!
Children’s brains are hard wired to learn, but that’s about all there is wired into their brains to begin with. All of the senses are working, but the brain has not yet had the chance to learn what they all mean. Being born is a bit like being sat in a quiet, dimly lit room one minute, and then suddenly having every wall of the room lit up as an array of dozens of television sets, all broadcasting a different channel, and all at full volume. The senses are suddenly overwhelmed, and the brain has to rapidly accept all this new information and learnt o block out as much as possible, to allow the focus on what is important, and to then identify the different senses and ‘tune’ them so that they work most effectively.
A child’s sense of touch exists, of course, but they don’t actually understand what it means. The nerve endings are all in place, and sensations are sent to the brain, but since the brain has not had any former knowledge of what these messages mean, it is a bit like tuning a radio in to a foreign station, when you have no idea what language it is. It takes time to make sense of the noise and identify it as words, then to identify patterns, then to refine your understanding of those patterns, and eventually to begin attributing meaning to those patterns. The same is true of a baby learning to use its senses, and touch is a case in point.
Providing rough and smooth surfaces, silky and patterned and so forth, you provide your child with a wider range of patterns and examples, which helps the brain break down the torrent of information into familiar, recognisable concepts and ideas, such as rough, smooth, patterned, lined etc.
Many baby’s toys provide this stimulation, and it is a good idea to look out for these, and provide as many examples of different textures as you can. Even finding teddy bears and stuffed animals that have a variety of textures, or at least contrasting textures, can be helpful. So that cotton, wool, nylon and other different materials provide them with constant stimulation.
Of course, it’s also possible to make your own examples, by sewing together a blanket of patches from old clothes. Rather than binning old clothes, cut squares from them, and sew these together, if you are able, into a small ‘feely’ blanket. Textures such as a cotton shirt, denim, a woolly square and so on will give your child familiar textures to experiment with, that may also remind them of you.