Massage for Fun and Learning

image credit: Jack Nealy

We’ve told you how fostering your baby’s development through touch can help create a special bond between parent and newborns. Plus, we’ve told you how to extend your hugs to massage in order to continue the benefits beyond infancy. And research has shown it can even help augment a child’s medical treatment. But did you know you can use it for educational purposes too?

For many young children, incorporating stories, music, rhymes and games into the massage routine enhances the event. Combining massage with language integrates the two sides of the brain. It fosters language development by pairing communication with tactile experiences. This practice integrates the child’s highly developed mode of learning (movement and senses) with the still developing and ever expanding area of language development.

Generally three to five-year-olds are quite receptive to massage. However, there are some techniques that may help introduce a reluctant preschooler to the concept of massage or help your family begin to develop a massage routine.

  1. Suggest a “massage train”. Have family members sit in a circle and massage one another’s shoulders or back. After a few minutes, have everyone turn around for a trip back.
  2. Try simultaneous massage. Sit facing your child and have your child choose which body part to massage. Then massage that body part on your child while your child massages that body part on you.
  3. Correlate massage with your child’s favorite activities. Ballerinas as well as hockey players receive massage. Its therapeutic value has influenced its growing presence in athletics as well as health maintenance activities.
  4. Rub shapes on your child’s back; see if she can guess the shape.
  5. Rub letters on your child’s arm; see if he can identify the letter you’ve drawn simply through touch. If more help is needed expand the game by saying words that begin with that letter or end with that letter. Try just making the sound of the letter as you trace it on your child’s arm.
  6. Rub the shape of a number on your child’s legs, can she guess just from touch? Expand the game by adding rhythmic, soft taps that correspond with the number.
  7. Sing “this is the way I rub your legs, rub your legs, rub your legs” to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”.

When giving a back massage,”daddy’s hands go back and forth” works well with the tune “The Wheels on the Bus”.

Remember that massage is more than just a hug, it’s a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Books for Families

McClure, V.S. (1989).  Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents. New York: Bantam.

Heller, S. (1997). The Vital Touch. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

— Mary Margaret Crombez

About the Author: Mary Margaret Crombez holds a B.S. in Special Education and Early Childhood Education, a Master’s degree in Parent and Pre-School Education and a Post Graduate Certificate in Infant Mental Health. She has been a Certified Infant Massage Instructor since 1990.  As an at-home mom, Mary appreciates work activities that allow her to remain consistently available to her family while supporting her own professional development. Currently Mary teaches Infant Massage and the As Your Baby Grows series for Beaumont’s Prenatal and Family Education department. 

Beaumont Hospital offers Infant Massage classes at two locations. 

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