May 15, 2013
Your newborn might not be mobile or able to talk to you in the conventional sense, but that doesn't mean you can't create meaningful learning experiences with him or her.
The time to begin reading, playing and interacting with your baby is... now! Providing a stimulating environment for your new baby will strengthen the interconnections between his neurons and boost his development. Even newborns like to look at interesting things, hear various sounds and move to music!
Not sure exactly what types of activities to do with a newborn? Here are some fun learning ideas that I do with my baby boy bookworm, who is just a couple of months old. But before I begin, there are a few things to keep in mind when playing with newborns:
- Be sensitive to your child's mood. If he or she looks away, seems distressed, or generally unhappy - its time to stop! You can try again later.
- Consider your child's temperament (or behavioral individuality). Some babies are easy, some are fussy. Adjust your activities according to your own baby's little personality.
- Babies learn through discovery. Limiting time spent in things like bouncy chairs or swings will help him experience the world through his senses and learn from those experiences.
- Babies develop at a rapid rate in the first few months. If you try something and your baby doesn't like it at first, in a few weeks time he might.
- Babies learn through repetition. You can read the same books over and over, play the same games, and sing the same songs multiple times.
Fingerplay and Songs
A newborn loves nothing more than to hear a parent's voice, especially when it's singing or saying fun little baby chants. You can play "this little piggy" or "row, row, row your boat" from the second your baby is born, and in a few weeks time the same little song will bring a smile to his face.
Finger plays and songs not only increase bonding but are a fun way to build language skills.
My favorite way to stimulate my baby, of course, is by reading to him! You can begin reading to your newborn immediately. Not sure what or how to read to a newborn, then check out two of my posts:
Reading to your child is a wonderful way to increase bonding, language development, and memory as you read the same books over and over.
"Watch Me" Games
Your baby will undoubtedly love to look at you as you move around the house and do your daily activities, but if you really want to give him something more fun to view, try a "watch me" game.
What's a "watch me" game? Exactly what it sounds like. A game where your newborn watches what happens as you do something. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Feather drop. Take a few colored feathers, and let them float through the air as baby watches. You can also stroke his cheek with the feather, too.
- Crumbling tower. Build a tower of blocks and knock them down.
- Balloon inflate. Blow some air into a balloon, and then let it go (just remember a balloon is not a baby toy though so keep it out of reach of his little hands).
- Funny faces. Stick out your tongue, blow out your cheeks, scrunch up your nose. Baby may even try to mimic your silliness.
As you are doing these games, make sure you narrate: "Look baby, watch what happens when I drop this feather. Oh, look it's floating! It landed on you . . . let's see how it feels. Oooo . . . soft. You like that, huh?"
Activities such as these help to strengthen eye muscles and vision, communication, brain and language development.
A newborn might not be able to dance on his own, but he'll love to sway in your arms. We love to put on music at home and bounce to the rhythm, or bounce to the beat as I read nursery rhymes. You can also wear your baby in a sling or a carrier at home as you go about your daily business. I have found that my everyday movements often rock baby boy bookworm right to sleep.
Babies love faces. Place a mirror in front of your baby as he does tummy time, like we do. It encourages him to lift his head a little bit higher!
This activity helps to strengthen neck muscles and vision.
Every household with a newborn baby is sure to have at least one rattle. Even before your child can hold a rattle you can put it to good use. How? Jingle it, and watch as your child turns his head to see where the sound is coming from. Don't have a rattle? Of course you can use just about anything. I like to call my baby boy bookworm's name.
This activity gives your child practice in locating sounds.
Talk it out
Babies learn language by hearing language, so make sure you are talking a bunch to your newborn. One thing that I often do with my baby boy bookworm is I narrate what I'm doing. For instance, if I'm changing his diaper I'll say, "Let's put you up on the changing table, and unsnap that onesie. Look at those chubby legs! Let's get you cleaned up. First I'm going to take out a clean diaper . . ." You can narrate just about anything you are doing, and it's a great way to expose your baby to varied language.
Jungle Gym Play
You know those play mats with all of those hanging toys that you got at your baby shower, get them out now. Using one of these jungle gyms is as easy as placing your baby on the mat! As your child grows, you'll notice one day that one of his jerky little (unintentional) movements causes one of the hanging toys to move. Your baby will notice this though, and think, wow that was pretty cool! Soon he'll try to repeat this action in a more intentional way to get the toy to move. Piaget called this a primary circular reaction – a reproduction of an event that initially occurred by chance. I call it pretty cool, and this is baby boy bookworm's latest feat.
Playing in a jungle gym strengthens your child's coordination and eye muscles, and teaches cause and effect.
Babies don't have a concept of object permanence or that objects out of view continue to exist. Playing "surprise" with your baby will be sure to spark his interest and intellect. Try pulling various objects out of a box or playing peek-a-boo. In our house we like to play "mystery bag" and put a bunch of objects into a bag, and I have my 3-year-old try to guess them by touch. To adapt this game for my newborn, I pull an item out of the bag and say, "SURPRISE! Look, it's a _____".
Cool Things in View
It's a good idea to think about what your baby sees down there on the floor! Take a moment and get at his eye level and ask yourself: What does the world look like from down here? Are there interesting things for him to look at? Providing stimulating things for him to look at helps boost brain development by strengthening the neural circuits that control thought. Place some colorful pictures in his line of sight, pictures of your family, or a mobile. With having a 3-year-old to entertain as well, I feel like I use this learning idea often, as my new baby bookworm is sometimes left to gaze at the world by himself as I attend to big sis. I try to always make sure there's something new and interesting in his view, and try to vary what he is looking at throughout the day.
I hope you have as much fun exploring and learning together as we do.
Marissa Kiepert Truong, PhD is a Chester County, PA mom and early education consultant. This post is adapted from her blog Land of Once Upon a Time.