Most first-time parents have plenty of concerns to fill up their day (and those sleepless nights.) First, the basics–is my baby eating right? Eating enough? Is this BM the right color? More time is consumed playing detective when baby cries. Is this gas? Hunger? Does this fit the description of colic?
It is common for parents to spend most of the early weeks after birth discussing these issues with each other, with their own parents, with friends, with the friendly grocery store clerk (hey, anybody who will listen, right?), and with the baby’s pediatrician.
Somewhere in the midst of this cycle of worrying, sharing, questioning, and figuring out, parents often forget to set time aside for a very important but less-talked-about aspect of babyhood–play! In later months, babies will force the issue by reaching for, grabbing, and responding to everything in their environment; actions which will constitute their version of play. But younger infants need a little help from the adults they love and trust.
Play in all its forms is vital to infant development and the future abilities and skills that children will exhibit. Need extra motivation to find time between feeding, changing, sleeping, and worrying to play? Read on.
Activate the Senses
Just being a baby is the definition of sensory overload. Playing in ways that enhance sensory development can help baby focus and learn from their new sensations. Playing with any bright object or an object with contrasting colors and patterns really engages a baby’s sense of sight.
If that object has an interesting texture, even better–guide baby to touch and feel the fabric or surface at the same time. Rattles and the human voice are excellent ways to employ a baby’s hearing. Move the object to encourage her to follow the sound while playing on her back or tummy.
Parents are the first to notice the ways in which their baby exhibits intelligence, and each new sign of their increasing “smarts” is a serious thrill. Play is such a boon to this kind of development. Toys that teach cause-and-effect, like a toy that makes noise when you pinch or squeeze it, encourages children to see what happens when they take action.
Most play that young infants are capable of requires a ton of interaction with their caretaker(s). Whether sitting on a blanket with a big sister, hanging out on dad’s lap, or taking a bottle with Grandma, babies start to form relationships early on through play. Making funny faces and interesting, high-pitched sounds will be interpreted by your baby as an invitation to play.
Watch the baby’s reactions for a smile and to see which faces baby starts to try and mimic first. Play peek-a-boo during clothing changes, with pillows at bedtime, and behind stuffed animals, books, or anything else in the nursery. Babies who get to play with their families feel loved and important, which is a bedrock quality in developing relationships in the future.
One thing I myself did was carry my baby around the neighborhood in a baby carrier. When my daughter was old enough to hold her head (about 3 months), I had her face outward (and yes, it was the same carrier made famous by The Hangover!) That way, not only was she able to see everything near my level, she could also interact with adults by watching their faces and reactions, something that’s hard to do in a stroller, where the baby can only see the knees of adults!
Teach Her to Communicate
Language isn’t just learned–it is absorbed. Although many parents make a concentrated effort to teach words and phrases to babies as soon as they can distinguish the first consonant from their little one, some don’t realize how many valuable language lessons can emerge from simple play.
Singing with your baby is a great start. Repeat songs often so that baby comes to recognize and enjoy both the tune and the subject of the music. Remind older siblings that their baby sister or brother loves to hear their voice and wants to know what they are thinking, seeing, and doing. The more people who talk with and engage the baby, the better her exposure to the language will be.
You don’t need the latest gadgets or videos to help your baby learn from the earliest stages. All you need is bright, contrasting objects, having friends and family interact with them, letting them see the outdoor world form your vantage point, and singing to them–these are all the things you’re probably doing anyway. So relax, and let them play!
Photo by jvnunag