The first year of your baby’s life is critical to his or her development. Here are 50 fun ways to stimulate their learning.
Talk to him
It doesn’t matter if you’re babbling in “babyese” or reading from this article, let your baby hear your voice as often as possible.
Talk to your baby about what you’re doing, where you’re going, who you’re with, what he sees, what you see. Ask him questions and act like he’s answering. he’ll start to hear the rhythms of conversation.
Use baby talk
baby talk – Those “goo goo, ga ga” sounds – are a precursor to speech, and babies love hearing it. sing it. not only is singing soothing to your baby, hearing music is linked to learning maths, so go ahead and sing along to the radio, sing lullabies, and make up silly songs.
Laughter is the first step to developing a sense of humour, and babies can’t help but laugh when they’re being tickled – gently, though.
Read, read, read
Babies love the sound of your voice, and the rise and fall of your speech as you narrate a story. Reading is one of the most important ways you can help your baby’s brain to grow and develop, so read to her right from birth – even in the womb!
Make eye contact
Babies recognise faces early on, when your baby is awake, look into her eyes. every time she sees you, she’s building her memory.
Babies love the surprise of learning that objects (and people) can disappear and come back – it’s called “object permanence” and it’s an important learning.
Give your baby choices
Hold out two packets of puréed baby food and ask your baby which one he prefers today. Look, we know he can’t read that one is pear and one is apple – it’s more about showing him that choices exist in a world where you usually make choices for him.
Read and repeat
Reading the same books over and over is important, as babies as young as eight months can learn to recognise the sequence of words in a story when it’s read two or three times in a row, helping them to learn language.
“This little piggy” or “the incy wincy spider” rely on simple repetition which children learn to expect. Playing these games helps teach babies to anticipate things.
Cuddle while feeding
Whether breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, hold your baby close to you to strengthen your bond, and sing songs, talk softly, stroke her head, and make eye contact.
Put screens down
Your baby needs one-on-one interaction and undivided attention, so turn off the tv and put your phone away, and interact with your baby.
Make exaggerated facial expressions, stick out your tongue, shape your mouth into an o. Babies as young as two days old can imitate facial movements, and learning to imitate is a sign of early problem-solving.
Who’s that baby?
Show your baby his reflection in the mirror. He’ll love making the “other baby” smile, wave, and play peekaboo.
Head, shoulders, knees, and toes
Playing games like this, where you gently lift your baby’s hands up to touch body parts, or cross arms and feet over to opposite sides, helps to develop balance and connect neural pathways.
Let him mouth it
It’s okay if your baby wants to put everything in his mouth – everything that’s safe, that is! “mouthing” toys, blankets, his hands, etc helps him to explore and is a necessary part of development or oral skills. Our editor says: not only does this build oral skills, it also helps with hand-eye coordination, as your baby is bringing things deliberately with his hands up to his mouth.
Rearrange the furniture
Move your baby’s bassinette to the other side of the room, or switch his car seat to the other side of the car. It’ll stimulate his mind to have new scenery to look at while still in familiar surrounds.
Your baby will love dropping objects from his high chair or bouncinette. even though it’ll be driving you up the wall that he won’t hang on to his toy or keep his dummy in his mouth, spend some time just repetitively getting what he’s dropped. He’s testing the laws of gravity!
Show her pictures
Make a photo flip-book with pics of family members near and far, and “read” it with her, pointing out names and faces.
Count out loud
Count her fingers and toes (while touching each one), count the number of steps you’re going upstairs in your house, count the seconds to warm his bottle. Making a habit of counting out loud helps develop early maths skills.
Hold your newborn close and dance with him, and as he gets older, hold his arms while he sits or stands to “dance”.
Show her videos of family
She’ll love watching dad wash the car onscreen or seeing her parents’ wedding, or her big sister blowing out birthday candles. make jokes. Point to daddy and call him “mummy”, pull silly faces, and clown around.
Give your child sensory experiences like rubbing his hands over textured fabric, blowing raspberries on his tummy, tickling his feet with a soft brush.
Narrate your actions
If you tell your baby, “i’m going to pick you up now!” or “i’m turning off the light; it’s time for bed!” it will help teach him cause and effect.
Build an obstacle course
Place sofa cushions, beanbags, toys, boxes, etc on the floor of your lounge and then lead your baby through crawling around, under, over, and through.
Tissues and toilet rolls are fun
Let your baby pull (cheap) facial tissues out of the box one by one, or play at unwinding a roll of toilet paper hanging up. It’s a great sensory activity.
Be a playgym
Lay down on the floor or bed and let your baby climb and crawl over you, or have tummy time on your chest. it helps boost coordination and problem-solving skills. Our editor says: this is great for babies who don’t like tummy time, as often they’re quite happy to lay on their tums on mum rather than the floor or a play mat!
Go to the supermarket
A new environment is great for your baby – and the colours, sounds, and patterns he will see at the supermarket are great for brain stimulation.
Keep scraps of different textures of fabric – velvet, flannelette, faux fur, wool, etc – and spend time gently rubbing them over your baby’s body and letting her grab them in her hands and pat them.
Show her videos of herself
Replay videos of your baby’s first bath, rolling over, playing, reading, cuddling, etc and explain that it’s her and what she’s doing. she’ll love seeing herself, and it helps build language.
Facilitate bare-bottom time
Not only is it better for your baby’s skin to have some time to air out, the different sensations of blankets or a light breeze on bare skin feels nice. And being unhindered by a nappy will help your baby to explore his body and what he can do with it.
Sit her between your legs
Prop her against your tummy, hold your hands on her waist, and encourage her to maintain an upright position for a few minutes. It’ll help improve her ability to sit.
Play toys on his feet
Encourage him to lay on his back or sit in his bouncinette and place toys against his feet that he can kick or try to bring up to his hands.
When she’s having tummy time, place a toy to her right, then slowly move it from right to left, encouraging her to turn her head from side to side to follow the toy.
Hang out without stimulation
Laying quietly with your baby, looking into each other’s eyes, is relaxing and also encourages your baby to lead the way with exploring you – your hands, face, etc.
Make her part of the story
Read her books or tell stories using her name as the main character’s name – it’ll help her learn to recognise her own name, and will also amuse her when she does! Our editor says: my son loves when I sing him a song I made up about all the things we do together, repeating the words “mummy” and his name over and over within the song. I’ve done it since he was a baby, and now that he’s five, he requests it again and again – particularly when he’s tired and wants to be soothed.
Make nappy time special
Tell your baby what you’re doing as you change him, and name the parts of his body and the items of clothing you’re dressing him in. It’ll help him learn to anticipate routines.
Get down on the floor with her
If your baby is on her tummy for tummy time, have your own tummy time next to her. If she’s getting up on all fours, do it too! being at eye level and imitating her helps her to learn.
Take her outside
Let your baby experience all kinds of weather – rain, snow, sun, grey skies.
Let her play with her food
When your baby starts solids, let her make a mess – smearing cereal in her hair, bashing a hard rusk on her high chair, “painting” with purée. Sensory fun!
The experience of watching bubbles, reaching out for them, feeling them gently pop under fingers and on hands, and anticipating the bubbles coming out of the wand is multi-sensory.
Walk around the house with your baby in your arms and let her touch whatever she seems interested in or reaches out for. name the objects as you go.
Grass is good
Let your baby play outside on the grass (not just on a blanket on the grass). It’s an amazing and different sensory experience to feel grass under her toes and grasp it with her fingers.
Visit the zoo
Show your baby pictures of zoo animals in a book, then visit the real thing. Take the book along and show her tigers when you’re at the tiger enclosure, etc. Read the book to her later and remind her of the animals you saw together.
Talk about feelings
If your baby is laughing and happy, or fussing and tired, identify these feelings out loud and name them to your baby. It will help him to start to understand feelings and how they come and go.
Let her “drive”
Sit with her on your lap in the (parked! Shut off!) car and let her hold the steering wheel and bash the horn a bit. Babies love the cause-and-effect of tooting the horn and sharing the spot where they usually see mum or dad helps them to appreciate a different view.
Roll with it
Put your baby on his back with a toy to one side, then help him to slowly roll to a side-lying position and reach for the toy. Switch to the other side and repeat.
Let your baby splash around in the tub (always supervise her in or near water). Pour water gently over her arms and legs, on her tummy, and over the back of her head. Squeeze a wet face cloth out so water trickles over her at different rates.
BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.
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