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COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL developMent oF the SenSeS:  the inFant and toddler YearS how senses Develop in infAnts AnD toDDlers Before birth, the brain makes connections from the receptors in the eyes, nose, mouth, skin, and ears to specific areas in the brain designated for sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. This process contin- ues after birth, when sensory exposure dramatically increases. Repeated stimulation helps the infant learn; that is, it helps the infant form a series of con- nections between neurons in different parts of the brain. Right after birth, infants will respond to loud sounds with a startle reflex. If they hear the same sound over and over in the environment over a period of time, they learn to either ignore the noise or respond appropriately to the sound. Newborns will turn their heads toward a person talking. Mir- ror neurons fire when infants see someone perform a movement, such as a tongue thrust (sticking out the tongue) or smiling, and this can cause neurons to release electrical impulses—this release is known as firing—and the infant will make the same move- ment. Mirror neurons fire not only for movement but for feelings as well. When infants see an expres- sion of feelings, their neurons for those feelings also are fired. Said another way, when a young child sees someone who is scared or crying, the child may express and experience similar feelings (Iacoboni 2008). This may lead to empathy for others (Carew, Goldberg, and Marder 2008). Children use all the senses together to interact with their environment and to gain control of their bodies. When a child sees a ball, she sees the color and the shape and feels the surface texture. She hears her caregiver ask if she wants the ball. She reaches out with the appropriate hand and bal- ances her body as she tries to grab it. She feels the smooth, cool surface of the ball. She brings it up to her mouth to taste it and to feel the texture with her lips and tongue. She smells the fabric. All the senses work together in order for the child to expe- rience “ball.” 14  c h a p t e r   2 Developing the refined use of the senses requires more than just brain wiring working in concert. Children have to learn how to interpret the input from the senses. The ability to use our senses devel- ops during the early years. Experience teaches us about the sensory input. Children need a multitude of activities that engage their senses if they are to understand the stimuli around them. When deaf adults have a cochlear implant and can hear for the first time, they must learn how to listen and to interpret the signals their brains are suddenly experiencing. Just like all other areas of learning, the environment for young children has to allow them to explore and learn from their senses. hearing The sense of hearing is refined very rapidly, and its circuitry is complete in the first few months. Just as with smells, infants learn to recognize familiar voices and are soothed by them. They enjoy toys that make noise or music, and are fascinated with the sounds of their own voices. As early as two months of age, infants start babbling. Then they COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL