Tuesday, April 12, 2011
LEARNING TO "SENSE" SPACE: Why Kids May Fall Out of Bed
With Caitlin’s new baby brother arriving in just a few months, her parents are now getting the baby’s room ready. While I was admiring his new room, we talked about moving Caitlin into her first "big girl bed." Of course, they were worried that she may fall out a few times before she gets used to her new space.
So the question came up, "Is there a “right” time -- developmentally speaking -- to move children out of the crib and into a bed of their own?"
Now, of course, the answer depends on the child as it always does, but I thought it might be interesting to discuss how children learn NOT to fall out of bed. It has to do with their relationship with space, which is managed by the Proprioceptive Sense.
LEARNING ABOUT SPACE
First, a child's sense of space -- known as spatial awareness -- is acquired through lots of trial and error with the wide-awake world around her. As she moves through different size spaces and learns to negotiate objects and obstacles around her, she is learning to map her own body - to know her own size and shape.
With enough practice, that "body map" will become intuitive, even to the point of "knowing" where she is while she's sleeping. Here's how it works...
SENSING SPACE INTUITIVELY
The human body has sensory touch receptors in every muscle, tendon and ligament known as proprioceptive receptors which provide the brain with important information about the dynamics of the world around us, including where the body or parts of the body are in space at any given time.
Now, for adults, a familiar space such as your own bed has been carefully mapped by your proprioceptive sensors, so you are able to sleep without having to worry about falling out. You "know" how wide your bed is, how much space you have in your bed, and how much space your body takes up which allows you to toss, turn, and roll over while staying within the edges of the bed -- even in a new bed!
But children's proprioceptive senses are still immature. And that's not only because of their age. Remember, they are always growing and changing shape too! So mapping their body and refining their understanding of space is a constant, daily developmental need.
If you're interested, try this little trick as you continue to read. It will give you a taste of how little ones feel navigating the world with an under-developed sense of space...
1. Place your left thumb in the air above your head (so you can't see it).
2. Put your right arm out to the side.
3. Lift your right arm over your head and touch your index finger to your thumb.
Chances are, it took you several attempts to find your thumb, even though you felt quite sure you "knew" where it was! Now imagine navigating your entire day without a complete understanding of your own body or the space that's around you! That's what little ones are trying to work out all the time.
READY FOR BED?
So back to the original question. When are little ones ready for big kid beds?
Certainly, only you will know best for your individual child, but here are a few ideas that can help prepare your little one for whenever the big bed day comes...
To help children build their own conscious and intuitive body map, encourage little ones to try to fit in, around, between, through, over and under things they come across. Chances are, they're doing this naturally all the time. Climbing under tables, through tunnels, into cupboards, cardboard boxes, and pretty much anything else that looks like a fun place to hide is a great way to help build their own body map!
You can't "sense" what you haven't experienced, so when the big bed finally arrives, take some time to go on a Big Bed Safari! IMPORTANT NOTE: Be sure to supervise this, and it's even better if you have two adults on either side of the bed for this one...
1. Start by having your child crawl around the bed, touching and exploring the edges. Do this both on top of and under the covers.
2. Play some more, having her wiggle and then roll around, again, both on top of and under the covers.
3. Have her crawl around the perimeter of the bed so she gets a feel for the size and scope how the bed changes the dimensions of her room. And don't forget to explore under the bed too!
4. After you've explored for a while, have her close her eyes and roll towards you, being sure to be there if she rolls too far.
CREATE SOFT LANDINGS
And of course, it's always a good idea to put some soft pillows on the floor around the bed until she gets used to it. Soon you'll see that her proprioceptive senses will adjust, her big girl bed will fit her to a tee, no matter how much she tosses and turns!