From the moment they’re born, babies start working to sharpen their senses, build up their muscles, develop their flexibility and improve their communication skills. Tantrums aside, they might seem passive until they start to crawl and talk, but in fact they’re learning all the time, and play is an important part of this. When parents help to provide the right kind of play experiences, babies can develop more quickly and get a head start in life.
Stimulating the senses
Although babies are born with fully formed eyes, their brains need time to learn how to process visual information. Decorating a nursery with simple pictures that incorporate clear lines, basic shapes and bright colors can help them with this. It can also give them the building blocks of basic geometry and spatial awareness if, for instance, a picture shows how a square can be made of two triangles. Mobiles are also good because their movement naturally attracts the eyes.
Music can also help babies to learn. Simple tunes are best because they can spot the patterns in them and follow them easily. Showing them how music is made on a simple instrument like a glockenspiel can help them to start making connections between sound and physical action.
Games to play together
It’s possible to help babies develop their muscles by playing simple games with them on a mat on the floor. Tickling is a good way to stimulate the nerves on the hands, feet and torso. They enjoy it and it can help get them moving. Gently rocking them from side to side while their lay on their backs helps strengthen the muscles needed to turn. When the health care advisor thinks they’re ready, they can be placed on their tummies for short periods to encourage them to try and turn over by themselves. Learning can be distressing at first but once they get the hang of it, they’ll love it.
Another good game involves laying a baby on its back and gently bending its limbs, lifting up feet and then putting them down again. This helps to stimulate the muscles and babies often find it funny. Even when they’re very small they are able to grip tightly with their hands, and as they get older, holding onto an adult’s thumbs is a great way for them to learn how to pull themselves up into a sitting position. Eventually the same technique can be used to help them stand.
Games just for baby
It’s important for babies to spend some time playing alone. This encourages them to use their imaginations and not expect everything to be directed by somebody else. Baby play gyms are a fantastic choice for encouraging this kind of play because they provide lots of stimulation and they’re designed to be safe, so the adults in the house can get on with other tasks and don’t need to supervise closely as long as they’re in the same room. There are options for babies at several stages of development in this category and they’re easy to combine with play mats and other clip-on toys. They encourage babies to reach up and to build up the arm muscles and coordination that will be necessary for crawling.
Once babies are able to drag themselves around on the floor, rolling toys like balls and cars are good because they encourage the baby to keep moving to try and recover them. Parents will have to be ready to help when the game becomes too frustrating, however.
Fun with language
Although babies can take over a year to learn to talk, there are a lot of discoveries to be made in the meantime. They have to learn what words mean and they have to learn how to use the vocal equipment they’re born with for more than just crying. Watching adults make simple sounds with slow, clear movements can help them work out how to imitate those movements and quickly expand their own range of sounds. As always, it’s important not to play games like this for too long as they require a lot of concentration and can quickly tire babies out, but when they’re played occasionally they’re fun and a great way to bond.
All these kinds of stimulation can help babies develop the core skills that will prepare them for the thrills of being a toddler. It’s the start of an exciting journey and attentive parents can help to make sure that it goes as well as possible.