Thursday, November 3, 2011

Don't overstimulate me, Ma!

Based in much of the Montessori and Waldorf philosophies of working with infants, I believe that babies should be surrounded by a calm, serene, and gently stimulating environment. They come into the world with NO experiences, so everything is new to them. Every sight, every sound, every texture they feel....all being sensed for the very first time. With all this newness, it's easy for them to become over-stimulated when their senses are raging with new experiences.
Often (according to leading child development author Dr. Brazleton) this may cause crying, hiccups, sneezing, and other behaviors to avoid the stimulation. Obviously this isn't always the reason for these behaviors, but it can be a cause. It is also why many infants calm down when they are swaddled, taken to a quiet, dim room, and rocked gently. They respond to the calm environment and their senses are given a break from working.

For this reason, we've decided to avoid infant "accessories" that are overly stimulating. My criteria for this involves:
-too much
-too loud
-too fast
-too bright
-multiple sensations being addressed at once

To explain....
Most of the swings, bouncers, exersaucers, mobiles, and baby toys available for purchase fit in these categories because they are overstimulating to babies. We have a small travel swing that has 4-colored flashing lights, plays "tinny" music that can go up to a very loud setting, has little waterglobes built into the sides that plastic fish swim inside of, has a toy bar that goes across the swing, and obviously rocks. WHOA! And in this I set my little two-month son, who can stare for long periods of time at a plain ole tree! This is way to many senses being stimulated at once, and the overload actually prevents him from focusing on any of them in detail.

Obviously some people would argue that their baby loves these items. This is often because we've taught them to adjust to the various stimulation, possibly even tune them out, by repeat exposure to them. We can "train" our children what to expect for entertainment and learning. If we expose them to constant "high activity" sensory experiences--ie: the flashing lights, the music, the movement, the toys all at once, they learn to expect this. And often this nurtures a toddler who is unable to settle down and focus for a few minutes on one simple item or task--they are flighty and moving from task to task, item to item.

There is tons of information and research out there on infant stimulation, and I am not going to go into it all in this post, but I did want to explain our choice and how this makes many of the "baby things" used in our house look a little differently.

So, what do we do?
We still use the swing. I just leave the music and flashing lights off, we removed the toys, and often I drape a burpcloth over the fish if I am wanting to provide a soothing rock for my son. We bought a bouncer that is simple--no music, no vibration, it rocks with the baby's movement. I love THIS ONE, and we found ours for a steal at a Children's consignment store.

I just recently garage-saled our playgym that we used with my daughter as I felt it had "too much." Music, lights, movement, toys that also included sound.....Instead we use the plain ole floor with a mobile on a stand for now, and I have my eyes on a wooden play gym piece that I have been begging my husband to build.

So.....will my poor son grow up with no music since I don't have any musical toys? No way....We play all sorts of music on a cd player or even our computer. Yea for Pandora. And best of all, it's REAL music! Not tinny Brahm's Lullabye coming out of a cheap speaker. ;)

I really love MADE BY JOEL'S website, and that's where we got the pattern for the mobile stand we use all the time. I also use his paper mobile pattern as one of our many mobiles.

Here's my son with Joel's set-up:
And now that he's a "big boy" and needs to practice rolling around, we often just put him on the floor under his mobiles.

I have made all the different mobiles--all with stuff around the house and 10 minutes of my time. And often with my 3 year-old's help! I keep them in a basket under the coffee table to change out as we want to.

This one is just two crossed sticks with black and white ribbons from my scrap box tied on at different areas.

This one was a little more labor-intensive--I traced leaf cookie cutters onto coffee filters, cut, and let my daughter paint them with a combination of tempera and watercolor paints. Then we strung them on thick thread, used beads to hold them in place, and tied the strings onto the inside of a wooden embroidery hoop.

We also do this a lot--prop open a book in his sight range. Right now I know that developmentally he's most interested in high-contrast black and white, as well as bold primary colors, so we try to find books (at the library or our home shelves) that are developmentally appropriate.

At this point in his development, we try to stimulate just one of his senses at a time. That way he can focus, absorb what he's experiencing, and remain calm and not overstimulated.

So, there's my soapbox on babies and nosiy, blinky, vibrating swings and bouncers. :)

The end.