Infant Brain Development - Activities to Stimulate and Nurture
Infant brain development occurs at an astounding rate. It's awesome to think about the amount of things a newborn will learn in the first years of his life!
It all starts long before he draws his first breath. The decisions we make and the time we spend with our baby has a direct impact on his future. Our responsibility as parents is to nurture and guide him to his fullest potential. That's really what we, as parents, all desire -- to see our precious child become the best that he can be.
Obviously, activities for stimulating infant brain development are simple at this stage (put away the flashcards until later). The best ways to nurture infant development simply require your time and interaction. Here are some activities to get you started:
Look into your newborn baby's eyes. Infants begin to recognize faces very early! Each time he stares at you, he's developing his memory.
Stick out your tongue at your baby! Studies show that newborns as young as a few hours old can imitate simple facial movements.
Have your baby look at himself in a non-breakable mirror. At first, he may wonder who that other baby is, but eventually, he will recognize that he can make that baby move!
Encourage communication. Whenever your baby babbles or coos, repeat the sound he makes and then pause to give him the chance to respond. This shows him that what he's saying is important to you and encourages communication.
Stroke your baby's knuckles to encourage him to open his fingers. Then gently place a rattle or toy in his palm. In the beginning, he won't be able to hold it for long, but the experience will let him practice for later play.
Talk to your baby, but leave short pauses where your baby would speak. Soon he'll catch on to the idea of conversation and start cooing in response.
Sing songs. Play music. Say nursery rhymes. It is thought that if your child is exposed to these things early in life, it lays many foundations for academics (math and reading).
Give your baby "tummy time". It's very important for helping him strengthen his back, shoulder, arm, and neck muscles. (This won't necessarily help with infant brain development, but he will need muscle strength to hold up that well-developed grey matter!)
Tickle his toes -- and everything else. Laughter is the first step in developing a sense of humor. Playing games like "Patty Cake", "This Little Piggy", or "I'm Gonna Get You!" teaches your child to anticipate events.
Go ahead and let loose with the baby talk (also known as "motherese"). Your cooing and high-pitched baby talk really grabs your baby's attention. This type of special talk is linked to increased language development.
Invest in a baby gym with dangling toys. Placing your baby under it and encouraging him to bat at the toys is wonderful practice for hand-eye coordination.
Change your baby's positions frequently. When an infant learns to play in a new position (such as on his side), his motor skills are challenged in different ways and develop more thoroughly.
Use your baby's name when talking to him. Studies show that babies can recognize their own name by 4 1/2 months if it is used often.
Make the most of diaper time. Use these moments to teach body parts or pieces of clothing, and to sing nursery rhymes. Narrate to help your baby learn to anticipate routines.
Breast feed, if possible. Breast feeding has been linked to higher IQs and increased infant brain development.
Use feeding time (breastfeeding or bottle feeding) as a learning time. It is a great time to bond with your infant by singing, talking, or simply stroking that wonderful baby hair.
Turn off the TV and other constant background noises. Your baby's brain needs one-on-one interaction without distraction.
Take a break with your baby. Spend a few minutes each day simply sitting on the floor with your baby -- no music, bright lights, or playful tricks. Let him explore with his eyes and hands, and see where he takes you.
Explore new places. Take your baby on walks in a front carrier, sling, or stroller, and talk about what you see -- "That's a big truck!" or "Look at the pretty flower!" or "Did you hear that ambulance?" -- to give your baby vocabulary-building opportunities.
Surprise him. Do the unexpected every now and then by gently blowing on his face, arms, or tummy. Make a pattern with your breaths and watch him react and anticipate.
Stimulate his senses. Walk around the house with your baby in your arms and...touch his hand to the cool window, stop to smell supper cooking, listen to the birds, look at everything, and talk about everything as you go.
Incorporate infant massage into your routine. A gentle massage while telling him what you are doing stimulates infant brain development.
Read books. Read books. Read books! Scientists have found that babies as young as 8 months can learn to recognize the sequence of words in a story when it's read 2 or 3 times in a row. This is believed to help them learn language.
Playtime is best when your baby is not sleepy or hungry. Signs that your baby doesn't want to play would be: turning away his face or avoiding eye contact. Try again once he's had a good rest.
When you reach the end of a book...read it again! Each time you re-read something, his memory skills are sharpened and he learns to predict what's next.
Teach your baby sign language. Baby signing is linked with earlier development of non-verbal and verbal communication. This is a terrific way to give a boost to infant brain development.
Give your baby time alone. He needs some down-time to learn to amuse himself and process all of the new information.
Spend plenty of snuggle time together! Once your baby knows that you will always meet his needs in a loving and reliable way, he'll begin to have the confidence to explore on his own...so carry and cuddle him, and make plenty of eye contact.
Both nature (genes) and nurture (experiences) will influence a baby's future. Optimal infant brain development will occur when a newborn's loved ones provide loving interaction.