From the moment a baby enters the world they’re being introduced to multiple new sensations. From birth to 12 months and beyond, millions of neural connections are made within the brain – and the more stimulation they get, the better.
That first year of life is all about brain development. For babies, this is directly impacted by their exploration – something that, at this age, is mainly developed through play. As this happens, so their also imagination develops. New sights, sounds and activities are all crucial elements that are so important for sensory, physical and cognitive development.
The following discusses some of the best ways that parents and caregivers can assist this journey at such a pivotal time in a child’s life.
Play facial expressions: Your baby will be fascinated with your face, expressions and by touching you. Play games such as peek-a-boo, using plenty of smiles and vocal stimuli, as well as letting them reach out and touch your face, nose, ears, hair etc.
Allow them to look in a mirror: While they won’t yet understand that the person gazing back is them, gazing at their reflection is another way that the brain begins to understand the meaning of expressions.
Touch and taste go hand in hand: Ever wondered why babies put everything in their mouth? It’s because this is the perfect way to explore the world around them. As long as the items are clean, this is to be encouraged as another way to stimulate the imagination.
Expose them to different environments: Different rooms in the house, visiting other houses, walks in the park, going out for a drive… Babies truly benefit from seeing as much of the world as possible from an early age.
Read books to them: Choose age-appropriate literature with vivid colours and large pictures. Tell stories, point out the names of animals and objects, such dog, cat and bed. This provides a solid basis from which an understanding develops that the pictures they see in books relate to real-world items.
Make sounds: Such banging things together (gently, of course), dripping water, ‘popping’ your cheek with your finger etc. As your child gets a little older, they’ll likely start trying to make sounds themselves, which should be encouraged. Things like banging a wooden spoon on a saucepan, shaking a jar full of uncooked rice – these are all great interactive ways to explore the beauty of sound.
Sing to your child: Repetitive tunes are fabulous for sparking their imagination. Nursery rhymes, such as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Humpty Dumpty and similar are perfect examples.
Play music and dance with your baby: Plug in your favourite tunes and croon along to your child as you hold them and dance. Or hold their hands as they lie, while you swing gently along to the beat.
Let them crawl: As they begin to crawl, babies further satisfy their curiosity by exploring. Join in the fun as they discover what’s underneath the bed, around the back of the sofa or round the corner…
Look at family photos: Seeing images of many different people and explain to your baby who they are. Over time and as they get older, they’ll eventually connect the pictures with the people in question.
Play outdoors: If the weather’s conducive to being outside, try some ‘tummy time’ on a mat whilst staring skywards. Point out birds, clouds and insects as they buzz past. It provides your baby with a different perspective which, again, helps those neural connections and encourages the imagination.
Use texture and touch: Let your baby feel different items, such as seashells, sand, velvet, feathers and more.
The more different experiences a baby has, the better. As the weeks and months roll by, you’ll see how they progress – a truly delightful aspect of your baby’s development to witness. In fact, you’ll likely be amazed at how fast they progress. Use your imagination to stimulate their imagination and together you’ll be building the foundation upon which your child will base their whole lifelong learning experience.
I have over 21 years’ experience in Early Childhood Education and Care in South Australia.
I have held managerial and leadership positions in the private and community sectors and also worked with children with additional rights as Education Supervisor of SA’s first Autism Specific Early Learning Centre.
I really enjoyed my recent position with the State Regulatory Authority, but felt a strong calling to return to childhood education and so I joined Think Childcare Services in August 2019. I love the variety and challenges of my role as People and Quality Leader and am passionate about high-quality practices, routines, curriculums and like-minded educators and the difference they make to the lifelong outcomes of early learners and their families.
I’m a wife and mum of three and balance work with a busy and active family life which includes sports, time outdoors and camping.