3 Ways to Play with your Infant Baby

 In Blog, General

How to Play with your Infant: Why Growing Minds Need Stimulation

Even our great, great, great grandparents knew the importance of tactile, visual, and auditory stimulation for growing minds. We see evidence of this in nostalgic toy ads and the ever-present baby mobile, but did you know that you can nurture your little one without excessive props? It’s true! Growing up is all about learning about your environment, how to play (interact) with others, and setting safe boundaries for curious kids. Mary L. Gavin, a pediatrician who writes for KidsHealth.org, teaches parents the following:

“The first thing your baby will learn is to associate the feel of your touch, the sound of your voice, and the sight of your face with getting his or her needs for comfort and food met. You can encourage your newborn to learn by stimulating your newborn’s senses in positive ways — with smiles, smoothing sounds, and gentle caresses.”

So, let’s talk about how we can stimulate your child through a variety of enrichment activities. I’ve put together my top types of play, and the science behind it, so that you can start to come up with your own inventive ways to play.

Word Play

Talking to and singing with your baby isn’t just a fun way for you to chat about your day, it’s a great way to get your little used to vowels and consonants. Their little brains are constantly soaking up every single syllable, so don’t be afraid to belt out your favorites in front of them (age appropriate content only, of course). In fact, Psychology Today published an article here discussing the value of “infant-directed singing” and “infant-directed music”. I highly recommend reading the full text, but if you want the quick version, studies have shown that singing improves the emotional bond between caregiver and infant while also positively regulating their moods. A  quick word of caution though, little ones have little ears and you should not use headphones. 

One of the best word plays is to read to your baby. You can start reading to them from day one. Human language, and word play, is directly associated with infants cognitive, language, and emotional development so go ahead and talk to them as much as possible!

Try talking to, singing to, and making funny faces at your little while they are down on tummy time. It is a great distraction if your baby doesn’t like tummy time. 

Physical Play

Specifically, you should make funny faces at your infant. Really. It’s not just a silly game to make them giggle and laugh, though it certainly does that as well. Try doing this one in front of a mirror! It’s well understood that by mimicking your child’s facial expressions and then teaching them new ones, it improves their facial recognition and fine muscle development. In fact, Heidi Murkoff, author of What to Expect in the First Year wrote a lovely piece for Whattoexpect.com detailing the science behind funny faces. When it comes to funny faces, she writes:

This simple game stimulates your baby’s social, visual, and emotional development — not to mention his listening skills. Plus, the intimacy between the two of you promotes bonding and teaches him social cues for seeking (and receiving!)

Another engaging activity is to walk around the house with your baby in your arms and let them explore. Feel the different textures of the wall and the soft fabrics, warm things, cold things and say the words associated with them. This is a great bonding activity, it teaches them language, engages their senses and builds a sense of security while they explore their surroundings.

Classic Childhood Games

I’m not talking checkers and chess, I’m talking about those old-fashioned games of Peek-a-Boo and Patty-Cake. These games combine the word play and physical play detailed above so you’ll find your child remains engaged even as they move through infancy into toddlerhood. When you incorporate nursery rhymes (infant-directed singing or music) along with exaggerated physical gestures, you are teaching your baby about spatial relationships, communication, and gross motor movement. Peek-a-Boo, in particular, is praised by developmental psychologists as a to demonstrate the child’s understanding of object permanence. Object permanence is an important stage in a child’s cognitive development in which they understand that just because they can’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Psychologist Jean Piaget conducted experiments with infants which led him to conclude that this awareness was typically achieved at eight to nine months of age which means you have plenty of time to incorporate this type of educational play.

Those are three different ways that you can play with your infant baby. This bonding time is invaluable to the healthy development of your precious baby. I hope this article gave you a few new ideas on how to spend time with your little one! Tell me what is your favorite way to play with your baby?

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