Nurturing a Holistic Home Life Through the Senses
By Chinyelu Kunz
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01. The importance of nurturing all the senses in a child’s development
02. Creating environments that support your child’s sensory development
03. The importance of respecting your child’s pace of development
Sense of Touch
Are you able to have natural fibers – such as cotton, wool, linen – in your furnishings – rugs or carpets. Natural fibers when it comes to bed sheets, blankets and warm winter duvets. Can you consider more natural fibers when it comes to clothing. And with your child’s toys, can you think of ways to provide them with more natural playthings that are made of wood, metal, paper, natural fabrics – and less plastic.
Sense of Life
Whether your child feels in harmony in their body or not is directly related to their sense of life. For the young child you can best nurture the sense of life by providing them with a healthy rhythmic life. Write out your daily rhythm – Hold onto your daily anchors like bedtimes, rest times and mealtimes. Young children make it very clear -by their behavior – when their sense of life is off and then it becomes very challenging for them to listen and to be in control of their emotions (which is a challenge even in more harmonious moments). But it makes it that much harder for them to make those steps towards progress.
Sense of Self-Movement
Young children need lots of opportunity every day to move their bodies. If your child is very young – 18 months to 3 or 4, small indoor slides, a rocking boat, a curved wooden rocking board and even small climbing structures are wonderful for them to use and explore moving in different ways. These toys are also great for small spaces – you don’t have to have a large family or living room. Children 4 and older can take regular walks and of course, just playing outside with opportunities to run, roll, climb and jump will meet the need for self-movement. When possible, limit the time that your child is in the car or having to sit for periods that are too long.
Sense of Balance
Children learn to find balance by exploring with movement and then discovering what their body can do. See-Saws and balance beams are great for children 3 and older- 8 or even 9. If you have a backyard with space for a see-saw or balance beam you can make them. Also, consider having a balance beam inside and you might just find your child gravitating toward it when they feel that that inner sense of being out of balance. Children 3 and younger will often seek a rocking horse to help bring them into balance. Swinging and Rocking with your child in a rocking chair is a great way to help bring an out of balance or dysregulated child back into balance.
The Sense of Warmth
When we protect and nurture the sense of warmth in our child, we also nurture warmth of soul for their later adult life. One of the greatest gifts we can give to our child surrounding them with warmth of soul. This can be through a warm smile and a hug – smile at your child often. Greet them with a smile in the morning!
Making sure that your child is dressed warmly – especially in cold weather is important for nurturing the sense of warmth. Even when your child refuses to wear their hat or coat or mittens, insist so that they develop an awareness of their body from the perspective of warmth. If you find it challenging to insist but your child still takes off their outer layers, you can establish a different dressing code where you say it’s two layers of clothing today – or even three layers on those especially cold days. You are the parent and should determine these guidelines.
When it comes to warmth in the home, are there cozy spots where your child can find comfort to just relax and be? Are there times during the day that you make time to connect with your child that offers them warm cozy feelings in your relationship with them. Maybe your able to read to them at the same time each morning or afternoon. Maybe it’s just before bedtime or maybe you create tea time in the afternoon where you sit and spend time together or you regularly invite your child to help make dinner.
Sense of Sight
With our eyes we reach out into the world and bring images and impressions back which must then be digested. These images which leave impressions are either fully digested – or not – through the sensory system and then remain as memories. Thinking holistically when it comes to what your child sees is really important – especially young children. Knowing that what they see leaves impressions that remain as memories really tells us that we need to give this great attention. One area in life that can so easily creep in and take over is screen time. The images as well as what they hear can so easily affect them on a physical level – and then this can lead to behavioral and emotional disturbances. Outside of the home, there are also strong images that young children encounter that they try to digest. Again, although we cannot control what’s outside of our home, just having awareness is helpful. When you see that your child has been affected on a physical level from screens or other impressions from the outside, give them, as an antidote, more time outside to play. Nature is the antidote.
When considering changes that you might want to make in your home to have pleasing, beautiful resting spots for the eyes, perhaps you’ll want to start with your child’s bedroom. Look around to see if it feels busy. Does the space excite the senses? Is there too much stimulation? How does the color of the room feel? Does the room feel calm and inviting?
These are also questions that you can ask yourself about other spaces in your home. If you’re looking to bring more calm into your home, simplifying makes a huge difference to how the spaces will be experienced by everyone.
Sense of Smell
Through the sense of smell we experience what is outside of us. With smell there is no boundary. Smell comes to us whether we want to experience it or not. Smells affect children and they might or might not say if a smell bothers them. Notice when a smell affects your child both positively and negatively. This might give you some clues to their likes and dislikes of different foods. It’s always a plus when your child helps out with preparing a snack or meal with you.
Smells from the kitchen can also affect children so including your child in preparing snacks and meals is a great way for them to be involved with food and to get used to different smells. It also helps when they know what different foods smell like. Working together in the kitchen as a family where the focus is on nourishing the body is, I think, probably one of the most holistic experiences that your family can share together.
After meals have been prepared and eaten it’s good, when possible, to air out your home as this helps to keep the air fresh and prevent a build up of too many smells. Here’s a tip for keeping a fresh smell in your home. Instead of unnatural air fresheners, try a more healthy approach and air out once to twice everyday even if it’s only for a few minutes. Open some windows, in the winter too, and soon you’ll begin to notice the positive effects of air out. Airing out also has the potential to release negative energy in the home.
Diffusing essential oils is a way to freshen up the air with a natural ingredient but be careful to not overuse essential oils because they tend to have a stronger effect on young children and pets much more than on adults. For young children some oils should even be avoided. A good book to reference is ‘Aromatherapy for the Healthy Child by Valerie Ann Worwood.
I also like to point out to parents that it’s important to purchase oils that are organic because if pesticides were used in growing the plants then they will be present in the oils and you will diffuse these pesticides in the air in your home.
I suggest that you even think about the smell of the laundry soap that you use because this can affect your child’s reaction to their clothing and bedding! Look for detergent that has no perfumes or added artificial scents. Seventh Generation is a good brand to consider.
Sense of Taste
For many parents, mealtimes are one of the most challenging times of the day. For young children, when it comes to how food tastes, their likes and dislikes can change from meal to meal. Children can so easily be up and down from the table, instead of sitting and enjoying the meal with their family. Knowing what to expect when it comes to how food tastes plays a big role in how likely they will stay at the table but also it’s important to think about the experience of taste and a holistic experience of coming to the table to eat a meal. Here are a tips to consider;
-Have your child help with meal prep.
-Talk about the food and how delicious it will be but don’t talk about it too much.
-Involve your child in setting the table for the meal.
-When possible, have your child take whatever dishes to the table that they can safely carry over.
-Light a candle before the meal and say a blessing.
-Without asking your child questions about what they want and don’t want to eat, simply offer to serve them a little from every dish on the table. If they resist being served a food that they don’t want to eat, be nonchalant and say alright. Taste for any food often needs time to get used to.
-Enjoy and eat your meals together as a family. When you eat as a family, you give your child a model to imitate. What you also give your child is the experience of what it’s like to really enjoy tasting and eating food. It’s really a whole experience!
Sense of Hearing
When it comes to this sense, there’s a relationship between the sounds in your home and how clearly your child can hear you or hear what’s going on in the home. From time to time, I’ll get a question from a parent asking how they can get their child to listen better to them. Now not knowing the full details behind this question and also knowing that this kind of behavior is typical, I do think it’s important to think about this from a holistic point of view and connect this to the sounds in your home. Hearing for young children is still developing and this is a very sensitive part of their body. Because it’s not visible, we might not really be aware of how loud sounds in the home affect them. Also, the continuous running of the television, music from your phone, or other device can interfere with how well a child is able to listen – even when the device is turned off. Experiencing quiet most of the time in the home, gives your young child the opportunity to listen to your voice, which is really the most important sound that they can hear while their speech and language skills are developing.
Sense of Speech (Language)
Like with all the senses, perhaps you are getting a sense that everything is all connected and living holistically really does ask us to look at the whole picture. If we want to live holistically we can’t section things off and cut and paste, we have to look deeper and find what connects the whole and then bring it all together.
A holistic experience of speech and language for young children is connected and influenced by what they hear in their environment. It is important that while your child’s speech and language is developing your voice, the human voice is what they mostly hear. As little screen media as possible benefits them best as too much can stunt this development.
To give your child a full experience of language, read books, make up stories together, say nursery rhymes and poems, sing songs, teach them fun, serious and even funny verses. Give them a rich experience that nurtures this sense.
Sense of the Word (concept of the word)
Young children can easily show us that they know the words that we speak to them but they don’t always grasp the fuller conceptual meaning of what we say. Because this sense, like all four higher senses, develops much later, between the years of 14 to 21 you really can’t expect your child to fully grasp and understand everything that you tell them. This is why a full experience of language that mostly comes from the human voice is important for young children. Not only do they hear words we speak, they also hear how we put sentences together and even more, they hear meaning and feel the feelings that are connected to words.
For a rich, holistic experience of language, it’s important to understand that your child needs to hear language in different ways – primarily the human voice, through stories and other ways that I mentioned above. Also, you will need to give your child a lot of room when it comes to the words that you speak to them because chances are that they might not be fully grasping what you tell them.
Sense of Self
This is huge and this sense, also known as the sense of the ego, doesn’t fully develop until 21 – today the understanding is that it develops by 25 years. What’s a holistic approach to understanding this sense? Well, first I think it’s having awareness of when this sense fully develops. Next, it’s knowing that the sense of self develops very slowly over many years. Slowly, ever so slowly you’ll see how your child gains an understanding of his or her self awareness. A holistic understanding of the development of your child’s sense of self will mean that you’ll want to observe your child and notice their behavior when there’s too much focus on them. You’ll want to notice if you’re asking them to do something on their own that they’re just not ready for. You’ll want to ask yourself if you find yourself telling your child to say good morning or hello to people, even people that they know or even hug aunts, uncles and grandparents. All this can be a lot for young children because it’s asking them to put themselves forward and step out of themselves and this takes much more self awareness for them to do this and really feel comfortable. So notice your child’s facial expressions and their body. Are they relaxed or is there discomfort.