Bringing a brand new baby home naturally comes with a lot of anticipation, excitement, and worry. You want your baby to grow up with all the benefits and advantages you can give her. The good news is that there are many great developmental activities you can do with your baby that can provide her with a mental, cognitive, and emotional boost to help her grow in a healthy and positive way, including reading to your baby, choosing educational toys and more.
1. Play with toys
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When you’re playing with your baby, the toys you use can actually make a big difference in his development. Some of the best are Montessori-style infant toys, which take a more scientific approach and help your baby learn and make essential brain connections. Even seemingly non-complex toys like a ball can help through an easy-grip, high-contrast, black-and-white design, helping to create a stronger brain-eye connection through simple play.
A rolling bell toy can help your baby learn to roll over, learn how sounds change with movement, and build senses through the touch of different surfaces. Connected wooden discs help your baby learn to coordinate movement to transfer objects from one hand to the other, a skill that will help them to build more intricate skills such as coloring with crayons. Putting toys around your baby can help him to learn to move and explore his environment.
2. Read to your baby
You can begin reading to your child even before she is born to help her recognize your voice, and reading stories to even the youngest babies has strong benefits. Studies show early reading improves brain processing speed, teaching them vocabulary and allowing children to recognize words, helping them to begin thinking ahead to the next word. Babies benefit from reading aloud through repetition, the quality and quantity of words, and engagement with the story, helping them to connect words to meaning. You can simulate the act of reading even when there’s no book by talking about the neighborhood as you stroll through, or talking about the yard and garden as you walk around and point out plants and animals.
At storytime, try different voices for different characters to help your baby differentiate between them. Singing songs to your baby performs a similar action. Reading to your baby helps develop imagination and understand the concept of storytelling as well as other important learning tools, such as letters and numbers. Your baby’s brain is developing rapidly during this time, with neurons making fast connections and creating neural pathways, contributing toward healthy cognitive development. As your baby begins to explore objects and wants to touch everything, books with interesting or varied tactile surfaces can provide extra stimulation and interest. Board books have bright colors that help keep even the youngest kids engaged (and these books are not easily destroyed). Early readers do better in school, learn faster, and bond to parents better through the quality parent-child time reading provides.
3. Incorporate physical activities
Starting out early building a habit of movement helps your baby establish a framework for healthy living later on in life and reduces the chances of obesity and associated health problems. Making room for enjoyable physical activity helps babies learn to incorporate it throughout their lives because they have associated it with pleasant feelings, pediatricians say. Infants can be encouraged to be active by being placed in an environment where they can move and explore as much as possible.
Toddlers especially need time to move around, and they can be encouraged in basic skills such as running, jumping, and throwing through normal play. Physical activity can improve cognitive function, such as memory and spatial relations. Toddlers should not be restrained in car seats and strollers for more than an hour, except while sleeping. Kids love to imitate adults and older children, so letting them follow along with your activities like yoga and exercise videos can encourage new ways to move, can be fun for them, and entertaining for you.
Your baby’s social and emotional development will move through stages as she grows. Exposing your child to other people throughout her infancy can help her to learn to develop her understanding of emotions and facial expressions. Babies learn a lot from their caregivers, and most parents begin to see two-way interaction, such as peek-a-boo, by the time their baby reaches about three months old. Babies will respond to facial expressions and try to “talk” with someone by cooing and making other sounds. Responding as though having a conversation helps your child learn important vocal cues.
Babies are very interested in older children, and they will gain information from interacting with other adults, too. Joining interactive mommy-and-me groups can help provide interaction with other babies and toddlers, promote new skills such as empathy, create a sense of bonding, and build stimulation through new surroundings. Classes are available for different interests, combining activities you would enjoy on your own with a new and fun environment for your baby. Try mommy swim classes, yoga classes, music playing sessions, or art-making programs.
5. Make it all routine
While your new baby will be the one to dictate your daily routine of feeding and sleeping, by the time your infant reaches four to six months old you can establish a routine that can help their development. Knowing what happens each day builds a sense of stability, from mealtimes to playtimes, giving your baby a sense of security, trust, anticipation, and recognition for what comes next. Toddlers with regular routines are more engaged and become more independent.
Routines help babies and toddlers learn to transition between activities and create a stronger environment for cognitive development. Build in times for interaction such as talking, reading, and singing, and incorporate time for outdoor play and exploration as well. Creating space for all the developmental activities that you can do with your baby will help ensure she has the best, most helpful experience as she grows.