Creating the Best Environment for Your Child

What is an “enriched environment” and how can it help my young child with CP?

An enriched environment is a setting in which a young child has many opportunities for experiencing new sensations and for acting willfully on their surroundings. It has been scientifically proven that enriched environment can help children with CP gain new skills in their movement but also their thinking and communication skills.

There are many possible ways that an environment can be enriched. This can be in the home, but also in the car, in daycare, or anywhere a family brings their child. To create an enriched environment, families can keep in mind a few simple principles:

Provide many different sensory experiences that an infant or young child can explore. There can be things to see, hear, taste, smell and touch. These opportunities are offered in a way a young child can most learn from them, which means the experiences are accessible and given at a level appropriate for the child. For example, if a child is learning to move any part of their body to music, it is important to provide the music type that the child enjoys, at a volume that is not too loud for them, and with their parent showing them how much fun it can be to move and sing without many other distractions.

An enriched environment stimulates your child’s own activity sometimes, but not always, through equipment or toys. Activity mean that a child is acting on their environment, in any way they can. It is important to understand the specific activities that a child can do to make sure they have opportunities to experience wanting something, having a goal and trying to reach that goal on their own. Sometimes, this can mean kicking a mobile and listening to the sound it makes; but it can also mean trying out a smile and watching a parent smile back, or pushing a toy to fall, just to watch someone pick it up.

Setting up an enriched environment means finding the “just right challenge” for the baby. This means activities cannot be not too simple such that responses require little effort on the part of the child and there should be a range of different experiences. Also, the task and the surroundings cannot be too complex, with too many things going on around the child and with most activities too difficult for the child to perform.

Family is the most important part of the enriched environment. A family that is supportive of young children’s early “experiments” is very important to creating an enriched environment. Infants learn by trying things out many times, succeeding but also failing, which teaches them about cause and effect. Families who encourage their little scientists by praising them for trying, succeeding or persisting when they fail are helping their babies make the most of the brain’s ability to learn and acquire new functions.