In the first few months of life, babies are constantly forming and strengthening their neural connections. Most people are aware of this fact, yet many still underestimate what babies can understand. Take the way people communicate (or don’t communicate) with babies, for example. Does that accurately model how humans would usually converse? Now, don’t get me wrong, I have been known to speak in high-pitched tones to my little girl and repeat the same thing a few times too, but my point is that we should think about what we are actually teaching them. Babies might not be able to speak back to us or understand what the words that we’re saying mean, but they can pick up on (and mimic) tone, sounds, gestures and even our emotional state from very early on. I’ve actually had someone comment on the fact that I talk to my baby with something along the lines of, ‘oh, I’ve seen other people talk to their babies as if they can understand them too’. Well, they won’t understand if we don’t teach them. I believe there’s a lot that these little treasures can understand and are capable of at this young age, and the teacher in me can’t help but get excited about my role in helping these early skills develop. So, if you, like me, have realised just how much your baby picks up on and want to encourage them in their learning, here’s a few activities you can try as they discover the world around them.
Reading is one of my favourite pastimes and it is such a fun thing to share with children. I’ve talked about some of the benefits that reading with older children has when it comes to helping them understand grammar in a previous post but reading with babies has so many advantages too. Not only does it show them how to use a book (which will come in handy later on), but it introduces them to new sounds and vocabulary that they wouldn’t otherwise hear.
Using a Play-gym
Play-gyms are so helpful for giving babies a stimulating environment that they can wriggle around in. My little girl is particularly active, and has loved kicking, pulling, pushing, chewing and grasping the toys on her play-mat since she was about a month old! Having toys that they can aim or reach out for helps babies to work on their coordination and motor skills.
Having Tummy Time
I think I underestimated the value of ‘tummy time’ before my baby was born. It is so helpful for babies when it comes to strengthening their core though and assists them with other movements like rolling.
Teaching with Toys
Babies probably won’t show much interest if you surround them with a selection of toys to play with, but they are likely to pay more attention if you interact with them using one toy. Take something like a rattle and show them how it works before giving them a turn to try it. Of course, they might just choose to put it in their mouth, but I guess that’s a form of learning and exploration too, right?
Singing with Actions
Try singing a song to your baby. Bonus points if it has actions to go along with it! Something like ‘pat-a-cake’ or ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’ works well. I’ve personally discovered that they don’t even mind how off-key you are! They just like to hear your voice.
Having Face-to-Face Time
As simple as it sounds, face-to-face time simply involves facing your baby and talking to them (or pulling faces). This is another great way for them to learn about language, and often they’ll try to mimic you. Once they’re at the smiley stage it becomes even more fun, as they’ll start to find you quite amusing.
Going for a Walk
Fresh air is good for everyone, and a new environment provides your baby with new things to discover. It’s great for the senses as it gives them new things to look at, exposes them to different sounds, offers different textures to feel (and sensations like a breeze on their back), and can even provide a few different smells (which are hopefully all pleasant).
It might be the number of items in the fruit bowl or the teddies on the shelf. By getting into the habit of counting things while your child is still young, not only are you showing them that things can be quantified (which sets a foundation for number sense), but you are also introducing them to mathematical vocabulary.
Spending Time in Front of The Mirror
While babies may not recognise themselves just yet, looking at their reflection in a mirror provides many of the same benefits that face-to-face time does. Plus, they often quite enjoy seeing another baby looking back at them.
This is in case you needed an excuse for spending even more time soaking in sweet cuddles from your baby. Cuddling provides ‘skin to skin’ contact, which is often highlighted as valuable in the early months of life. It also gives babies a sense of security, and my teacher training says that when we feel secure, we’re more willing to try new things. So, enjoy time cuddling your baby while they’re still so tiny and huggable!
I’m not talking about playing a song from the speakers here, although you may choose to do that too, but playing with instruments – and letting your baby have a turn! Yes, as the title suggests I let my 4-month-old play the piano. Not because I’m trying to start off her career as a professional pianist or because I’m living vicariously through her and want her to become a child prodigy. Actually, I let her play music because it’s good for her development. Firstly, it introduces her to new sounds. Secondly, it encourages her to develop her motor skills. It also sets an early foundation for the concept of ‘cause and effect’, which babies typically understand by 9 months of age. So yes, my baby already ‘plays the piano’, and do you know what? There’s no reason why yours can’t too.