Friday, May 23, 2008

Playing IS Learning: Young Explorers - Mouthing and Sensory Exploration

At one point in children's development it can seem as if they need to put everything in their mouths - Building blocks, puzzle pieces, the occasional board book. Many wonder, often with valid concerns for infants' and toddlers’ health and safety:

Why must young children put things in their mouths?

To begin to understand an infant's or toddler’s world, we have to think about how many ways we as adults use our own senses to expand our knowledge. Here are a few examples:

-We gain information from watching television or reading the newspaper.
-We listen to others as partners in communication.
-We might taste several different wines or feel different qualities of bed linens to better distinguish the difference between their tastes or textures.
-We might even learn that by listening to certain types of music, we feel more relaxed.

Infants and toddlers depend on their senses and the skills and abilities they are born with (looking, listening, grasping, sucking and mouthing) to learn. In fact, the pioneer of child development Jean Piaget, recognizing how infants and toddlers rely on all of their senses to help them understand the world around them, named the first twenty-four months of life the sensorimotor stage (
Civitas, Understanding Children).

Why is mouthing important?
can be described as children's exploration of objects (or hands or feet) using their mouths. Mouthing is an important way to help infants and toddlers better understand their sense of touch and learn more about objects in their environment--especially those that are new to them. It gives them an introduction to texture, size and function. Children also use mouthing as a feeding behavior, and a comforting and soothing tool (Ruff, et al., 1992).

DCM: Keeping Your Infant or Toddler Safe and Healthy
Because young children will explore using all of their senses, DCM follows the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and local health department’s recommendations for cleaning and sanitization of props and surfaces. Daily and weekly cleaning schedules ensure exhibit components are disinfected.

The following are other things visitors can do to help keep DCM safe and clean:
· Mesh bags and toy returns found throughout the Museum can be used to deposit any toys
that have been mouthed (Carpenter, 2008).
· Visitors may use disinfectant wipes found in the three Young Explorers areas to wipe up
areas affected.
· Remember that hand washing is the best way to fend off any germs (especially before
· Please watch what your infant or toddler mouths. Most toys in the Young
Explorers areas of the Museum are
not choke hazards. However, many other exhibits have pieces that may be. Always supervise your infant or toddler.

(Sources:; Piaget, J. (1936). Origins of intelligence in the child. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Carpenter, J. (2008). "How Clean is Clean?" Hand to Hand-Association of Children's Museums.)

Stay Tuned!
Build It Young Explorers provides infants and toddlers with the opportunity to experiment with their effect on the world while being introduced to the properties of gravity, motion and construction. Next time, we will take a closer look at the materials in BIYE and offer some at-home Build It activity ideas for families with infants and toddlers.

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