Using Touch in Babytime to Support Learning

Posted on September 3, 2019

by Jan C

Babytime starts soon at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library. Children’s librarians are finding new books and activities that support early literacy skills – that’s what children know about reading before they can read.

For instance, consider activities that involve touch and body part identification. Rhymes like These are Baby’s Fingers, songs like Wake Up Toes and books like Where Is Baby’s Belly Button? by Karen Katz support early literacy skills and provide pleasant opportunities to express affection.

That’s not all. These simple activities could lay essential groundwork for social learning, specifically the ability to imitate.

According to researchers at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington, touch helps infants make the connection between self and others. Researchers used MED (magnetoencephalography brain imaging) to map where 7-month-old infants’ sense of touch is processed in the brain, not just in response to felt touch to the hand or foot, but also in response to observed touch. This is seeing someone else touched on the hand or foot.

Findings published in Developmental Science indicate that when 7-month-old infants’ hands and feet were tapped, specific areas of their brains were activated. Simply seeing another person’s hand or foot being tapped also significantly activated these areas.

Andrew Meltzoff, Ph.D., psychology professor, lead author of this study and co-director of I-LABS, explained, “Before they have words for the body parts, babies recognize that their hand is like your hand, and their foot is like your foot. The neural body map helps connect babies to other people: The recognition that another person is ‘like me’ may be one of the baby’s first social insights.”

In order to imitate, infants need a sense of their own body, an understanding that body parts correspond and to make the same movement another person is making.

Rhymes, songs and books that encourage us to touch and label babies’ body parts and move those body parts could support this development.

What we do in Babytime matters.

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