In the water, with minimal sensory play, a baby can lead his own playtime of discoveries.
Discovery can enhance physical, emotional and social development, setting baby up for a lifetime of confidence in the water and beyond.
A natural approach
Do you feel that baby is missing out if they are not dipped and dived to explore the under-water world? It’s actually common for us to think that babies need to jump off with a 1, 2, 3 even when they can’t even self-support.
Out of the pool however, babies are often contained in a car seat or a baby bouncer, so movements can become restricted. Opportunities for sensory play may be provided as an activity, rather than as a natural experience for baby’s body and brain.
We suggest that it is better to discover a more natural approach together.
Let’s see the pool as a baby’s first playground, to freely move, learn and explore their world.
A baby’s first movements in the pool
Imagine the pool from a baby’s perspective.
Baby is cradled in the support of the water. The sights, sounds and smells of the pool are new to him. He needs only the security of your presence in the water with him and the lightest support to allow him to explore his new environment through movement.
If you watch closely, you can visibly see baby enjoying and exploring micro movements. These first movements, from a little grasp of the hand to a little froggy kick of the leg, are unconscious reflex actions. Being in water provides him new and valuable experiences. He is discovering his body, his relationship to you and his world around him.
He takes it all on board. From the changing light and shimmering reflections from the water, when ready, he alters his gaze to investigate this further. He senses the water on his cheek, takes in the new smells and the gentle sounds of the water. He stretches out a hand towards the light, and his body starts to feel the freedom of movement in the water.
The whole body is alive with sensations
When he feels this gentle exploration is becoming too much, he breaks his gaze and averts his attention – looking for your attention.
Baby is looking for his carer to be there for him, with easy eye contact and a reassuring smile. You are his safe harbour but he is soon ready to explore again.
Though these movements may be barely perceptible, this time of quiet reflection and observation is invaluable.
He is exploring his buoyancy.
The science bit
Synapses are firing in baby’s brain. The new neurological pathways are developing as he gradually assimilates his new watery environment.
His inner vestibular and proprioceptive senses are working overtime.
The water is giving baby input of how his muscles and joints work and how his arms, legs head and trunk move. The water gently supports and cradles baby, whilst giving him an unique opportunity to feely move. Much more than he could on dry land.
Baby is becoming stronger
As the hands reach towards the light, tiny droplets of water fall around baby’s arms, face and chest. His gaze focuses on the fingers and these new sensations.
He needs time to connect these movements to his own will; the opening and closing of the fingertips, making a fist, and the feeling of one hand meeting with the other. As he moves his hands down, he takes in the sounds and feel of the splash he has created. It’s a multi-sensory experience unique to the watery environment.
He starts to connect with the water, when he splashes he feels the input and the splash back.
It feels good!
A chemical rush of oxytocin reaches the brain. He connects to this sensation. It makes him happy and he starts to make the water splash back again. He moves his hands up and down and the water splashes.
At this stage this is still unconscious actions, but he knows it feels OK. The water energises him, like a little Duracell battery!
Over time he will work out that he causes the water to splash, but for now he is just enjoying the sensations. Meanwhile, you are carefully watching, observing and are there for him.
The learning of where the hands are and how they work, are one of the most magical things. It takes a while to learn how to use both hands, to reach and pull objects towards him. For now, he is just enjoying how to self sooth, to suck and play with his fingers. He is just beginning to be aware of his body and have more control over his movements. This process might seem pointless, but to him and his world it means everything.
Baby is becoming more controlled
The water is a natural playground. By its very nature there are opportunities to bounce, roll, jump, splash, and float.
As baby becomes familiar with his new aquatic environment, he begins to choose some of these experiences to explore.
He feels the weightlessness of his body without a hard surface for support. He discovers that if he kicks, he will move. His balance and core stability are challenged. He can lead a roll with his head, and the shoulders, arm and whole body will follow.
He subconsciously learns the subtle adjustments he needs to make to his hands, feet and body to create the movement he desires.
You’re there for him, quietly observing. You can set up opportunities that he enjoys to develop his own current capabilities. By ensuring there is a creative play space that is designed around him, it sets the tone for what he can discover.
Toys are important
Gently floating on the water there is a bright play raft, ready for him to rest and roll.
In the corner of the pool, there is a wonderful rainbow, with dangly fish at different heights. He can gaze and try to bat it, perhaps unintentionally at first as they may be just out of his grasp.
Why not look up at the fish yourself, what does your baby see from his perspective?
Floating on the water there a few toys, they might just float away if he swims nearer, but they are there for him.
Less is more when it comes to the pool. A natural multisensory environment. He just needs time, space and the chance to explore and show you what he is capable of.