Enabling Environments: Resources for Under-threes - On reflection

Claire Stevenson, Donna Luck and Veronica Lawrence
Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Stimulate babies' sensory and cognitive development with these simple, easily accessible resources, in the third of a series from Claire Stevenson, Donna Luck and Veronica Lawrence.

Babies love looking at reflections of themselves. Reflective materials have unique properties that catch babies' attention and help promote discoveries about themselves as individuals. This is important in helping them develop their sense of self.

Adults can support babies in finding out about how they look and who they are. Looking at themselves and others in mirrors can become a game of interaction, playing peek-a-boo and 'where has baby gone?'

Reflective area

- Large mirrored surfaces can easily be made using sheets of cardboard covered with adhesive mirror roll.

- Collect tubs, tins and boxes and cover these too.

- Stainless steel bowls are an excellent addition to this area.

- Steel balls and compact discs have exciting reflective properties.

- Hang old CDs from the ceiling at different lengths to catch babies' attention.

- A mirrored surface on the floor can be particularly fascinating.


- Clear a suitable space that can remain in position to enable babies to revisit and repeat their actions, strengthening the connections in their brain.

- Place mirrors at a low level where babies can easily see their own reflection.

- Talk to babies about what they can see in the mirror, helping them to realise that it is their own face they are looking at.

- Share in babies' discoveries about themselves and others around them.


Northamptonshire settings that added mirrors and reflective objects noted that it became a popular area in the baby room, not only for the babies but also the practitioners!

Children were particularly interested in the reflective properties of the compact discs as they turned and tilted them in the light. In one setting, practitioners commented that adding the reflective corner has brightened up a previously dark area in the room.


Gerhardt, S (2004), 'Why Love Matters - How Affection Shapes a Baby's Brain' (Chapter 2, 'Building a brain', p32-49). Routledge


Babies learn by using all their senses to understand the immediate world around them. Sensory Socks are extremely tactile and stimulate babies' sense of touch, sight, smell and sound. Exploring the Sensory Socks is a simple way to stimulate neurological connections in a baby's brain.

Babies like the feeling of different fabrics. Socks are soft, and the baby could use them for self-soothing - an important skill linked to developing resilience.

Babies will touch objects within their reach, trying to find out about the things around them, building and strengthening brain connections. Sensory Socks are particularly good at stimulating listening skills. Babies respond differently to different sounds and from an early age they can distinguish sound patterns.

Sensory Socks also provide a way that babies can begin to develop their skills in involving others in their interests and play. For example, a baby could show a preference for a particular sound and texture found in the different socks and demonstrate this by pointing, looking at the adult and smiling or crying. This is important in helping to develop what is called social referencing - when an infant looks to their key person to assess their response to something or someone in whom the infant is interested - in this example, different sensory socks.


Sensory socks are easy to resource and make, and you can use a range of socks in different colours and sizes. Find objects that fit inside the socks: cellophane makes a great noise as it is grasped. Sew securely across the top of each sock, or if it is long enough you could tie it in a knot to keep the contents safely in place.


- Handle the socks and draw babies' attention to the different noises made.

- When a baby points, notice whether it is 'I want' (imperative pointing) or 'Look at this' (declarative pointing).

- Use simple language to describe what babies are touching and hearing.

- Notice if babies show a preference for a particular sensory sock. What is it that captures their interest? How do you know?

- Regularly monitor the resources to ensure they are safe and stimulating for babies to explore.


Practitioners commented on how such a simple resource has proved to be a valuable addition to the baby room. Babies were fascinated by the sensory socks provided as part of the Northamptonshire Baby Room Project. Babies explored the socks by touching, grasping, shaking and listening to the different sounds some of the socks made. Practitioners found that by interacting with the babies, they were able to support and extend their learning and development.


Murray, L and Andrews, L (2005), 'The Social Baby - Understanding Babies' Communication from Birth'. The Children's Project


A textured pathway helps to develop an infant's sense of curiosity and exploration. Experiencing different textures enhances their learning and development. Babies learn by being active, promoting gross motor physical skills, which in turn contributes to their sense of well-being.

Becoming curious about what is going on around them and venturing farther afield is an important stage in a baby's development. Many babies who are securely attached to their caregivers will feel more confident in exploring different types of experiences (Ainsworth et al, 1978). Exploration within a close and dependable relationship leads to developing self-assurance.


You will need carpet squares, rubber bath mats, bubble wrap, fur fabric and mats in a range of textures. Clear a space and lay out the mats, creating a pathway. Give babies encouragement and emotional support to move along it, using simple language describing the colours, textures and sounds of the surfaces.


- Ensure there is plenty of time for babies to become engaged in the experience and to finish exploring.

- Get down at baby's level and crawl/walk with them, offering sensitive support and encouragement.

- Show babies the different textures so that they begin to touch and feel them. It is important to gauge how different babies respond to the textures and to comfort those who are less willing to play in this way.


Babies were confident enough to explore the textured pathway, thanks to attachments with supportive key people. Practitioners commented that by tuning in to a baby's body language and facial expressions, they felt they were able to consider individual likes and dislikes. They noted that removing shoes and socks enhanced their sensations and heightened their reactions.


Bowlby, J (1971), 'Attachment and Loss, vol 1: Attachment'. Pelican

Ainsworth, M et al (1978), 'Patterns of Attachment: A Psychological Study of the Strange Situation'. New Jersey:Erlbaum

Smith, K, Cowie, H, Blades, M (2003), 'Understanding Children's Development' (4th edition). Blackwell

Sutherland, M (2006), 'The Science of Parenting'. Dorling Kindersley

- Claire Stevenson is a birth-to-three adviser, Donna Luck is a Foundation Stage adviser and Veronica Lawrence is a specialist senior educational psychologist (early years), all working for Northamptonshire County Council.


Links to EYFS Guidance
- UC 1.1 Child Development
- L&D 4.1 Play and Exploration
- L&D 4.2 Active Learning.

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