Returning to the sensory world of the pool By Vicki Oldfield, Water Babies
Swimming is one of the most sensory experiences a child can have. That natural, highly stimulating environment with the water all around you is an experience close to that of a foetus. It is nature’s adventure playground, full of rich sensory feedback and opportunity for brain development, relaxation and fun.
No one can dispute the importance of sensory stimulation at a young age for brain development, but many people overlook the mammoth opportunity the swimming pool offers to stimulate our senses. We all know about our 5 senses, but did you know there are actually more than 8? And all of those come into play in the pool environment.
What does this mean for us returning to the pool?
After this period of limited interactions and experiences, swimming is going to be amazing for brain development of children but it is also going to be a challenge due to potential overstimulation. What is overstimulation I hear you say? We can all get overwhelmed by the world around us, and in children this can cause a distress response (crying, tantrums, worry) or shutdown (quiet observing). It’s hard for them to tell us how they feel, but if you become a parent detective, you may start to notice the subtle cues to this: rubbing of the eyes, hand in the mouth, drowsy look or just being ‘fussy’ and distracted from what’s going on around them.
What can we do to help?
I would say my top tips for helping get back in the pool would be play, play, play! Playing is one of the best ways to stimulate brain development and our connection to the world around us, with any object giving you the opportunity to create a toy out of it. Why not focus on one sense at a time? Here are some ideas to get you started:
Auditory (hearing) – make your own drum kit out of pots, pans and wooden spoons.
Visual (sight) – paint with colour, watch a film together.
Olfactory (smell) – smell those summer flowers, as you’re cooking smell the ingredients and then smell the final product before eating it Gustatory (taste).
Tactile (touch) – run that bath a bit deeper – dare I say splash? Get those hands and feet in squishy stuff in messy play.
Vestibular (spacial awareness) – make a mini balancing beam out of a folded towel, set up a little obstacle course to follow.
Proprioception (body awareness) – as if anyone needed an excuse to dance in their kitchen, get swaying and moving around, hopping and grooving like no-one is watching.
Introception (self awareness) – for adults and children alike, yoga is a great way to concentrate on yourself. Breathe deeper, listen to your heart. You will generally also find this is easier by being out and listening to the natural world.
More top tips to get pool ready
· Baths are an opportunity for fun! Share the experience with them by getting in, use familiar toys and build on this, balls are amazing in the bath as they move and change, create the grasping cupped hands we actively encourage in our lessons.
· Have a shower - with them or let them sit on the floor of the shower – getting used to water pouring over and stimulating their body.
· Travel to the pool you normally swim at – car journeys too can stimulate vestibular senses, and for some, these have become oversensitive to the lack of stimulation over the break to normal life.
· Pack your bag ready – see what’s in it – talk through and think about how you too will manage the changes regarding social distancing on your first visits back to the pool.
Start small and slowly, keep an eye out for overstimulation and get to know how your child responds. Just remember we are all in the same boat as we build the new normal. Give yourself and your little time to readjust as we embark on the new adventure of post lockdown experiences.
For more information about Water Babies lessons and lots more bathtime tips, visit www.waterbabies.co.uk