Your baby’s brain is being shaped as she is growing up – starting from her first days of life. Her brain consists of a hundred billion brain cells called neurons. These neurons interconnect with one another, like roads and bridges. The more connections the neurons make, the smarter your child becomes. The formation of these connections are triggered when your baby is exposed to an environment that is rich with colors, sounds, smells, movement, as well as your touch. The simple act of talking to your baby, rocking her to sleep, wiggling her fingers, and wrapping her in fresh-smelling clothes actually builds your baby’s brain. Introducing your baby to a rich environment that builds her brain is called infant stimulation.
You can also play simple games with your baby that enhance the development of her brain. Infant stimulation games consist of activities that stimulate her senses and jumpstart her intellectual as well as physical learning.
Studies suggest that babies who are stimulated reach developmental milestones and become independent earlier. They have keener senses, better muscle coordination and have a more secure self-image. On the other hand, babies who are not stimulated are found to grow up at a distinct disadvantage in their first grade in school. This disadvantage may linger for years.
It has also been observed that babies with the same genetic background or coming from the same family turn out differently when raised in different environments. Babies who are nurtured in an intelligent environment grow up to have better personalities and more advanced intelligence level.
Infant stimulation can be fun for both you and your baby. Your baby is not the only one who learns, but you also get to know your baby better, and hone your skill to be her effective first teacher.
The following are some age-appropriate game ideas you can play with your babies to stimulate her brain. Feel free to make variations, but be sure that you use safe toys, environment, and movement:
0 to 6 months
Build trust. Pick up and hold your baby in your most loving way. Talk and smile to her, and show her that she can trust you and others in the future.
Sway your baby. Put your baby in your lap as a cradle and rock her rhythmically from side to side as you talk or sing to her.
Make sounds for your baby. Clap your hands, snap your fingers, make unusual sounds in different positions around your baby’s head, play soothing music.
Sing your baby simple lullabies like “Hush Little Baby” and “All the Pretty Horses”.
Sing nursery songs to your baby. Make your baby sit in your lap, and bounce her gently to the rhythm of the music. Bounce her a little higher when you say one particular word.
Dance with your baby. Hold your baby securely against your chest; dance slowly and smoothly across the room. Use music that is not too jarring.
Tie a string across your baby’s crib and attach soft colorful toys, pictures, rattles, etc. Make sure she can see the toys. Move the toys gently and talk to her about each one. Stop when she shows that she’s tired by turning her head away from the objects.
Dangle a toy attached to a stick in her mobile, and change it every few days.
Make your baby look. Use bright color small object such as pom-poms or cuddly toys. Get your baby’s attention by holding the object around a foot above her face. Slowly move the toy from side to side. Slowly lift the object up and down so she can see it moving from near to far. You can also touch your baby’s cheek with the toy.
Make your baby see. Move your baby’s head to show her simple patterns or something pretty. Hold your baby high on your shoulder to encourage your baby to explore with her eyes. Or put her on her chest on a pillow so her head and arms are free. It would also be a good idea if you talk to her about the object she is looking at.
Show your baby your facial expressions. Cradle your baby in your arms, and make her look at you. Gaze into his eyes, speak or sing her name softly, and show her your facial expressions such as a smile, a stuck-out tongue, raised eyebrows, and more.
Make your baby see you talk. Hold your baby close to your face and lips. Happily talk to her. When she makes a baby sound, respond to her by repeating her sound.
Play peek-a-boo. Lightly cover your baby’s face with a baby blanket. Talk to her so that she hears you as her eyes are covered. Pull the blanket away saying “peek-a-boo!” Cover your own face sometimes.
Put a safety mirror over the crib so your baby can see herself.
Teach your baby to hold. Show your baby a small toy, and then touch the inside of her hand so her fingers close around it. Hand it to her when she drops it. Speak lovingly to her every time you give her the toy.
Give your 3 to 6 month old baby objects to explore by touch safe household objects such as nonfuzzy clothes, plastic cups, keys, etc.
Hang things in her crib that she can touch. Encourage your baby to reach for objects by about 8 to 10 weeks. Safely tie a stick across the crib. Attach two “touchy” objects that look different. The string should be long enough for her to reach and touch. Your baby can feel the things that his eyes can see.
Give your baby an infant massage. Your touch is almost a language for infants. It deepens bonding, and some research has shown that it increases immune functions, improve muscle development and greater production of growth hormones.
Make your baby begin to remember things. Show her a toy, then turn her away so it’s out of sight. If she turns back to find it, let her have it. Hug her to show that you are pleased.
Express happy feelings to your baby. Hold the baby near your chest, hold her over your head saying “up”, then lower her saying “down”, then hug her. While doing this, let her know that you’re happy to play with her.
Teach your baby to roll over. Sit behind your baby’s head when she’s lying on her back. Hold a toy above his face. Slowly move the toy away, towards the side, making sure that your baby is following it with her eyes. When she turns over to see or reach it, give her a hug.
Make your baby do the babycycle. Gently and slowly move her legs in a bicycling motion, while talking and smiling and encouraging her to wiggle his legs without your help. Soon, she’ll be pedaling by herself!
6 to 12 Months
Make your baby explore with hands on sitting position. Have her sit with a pillow behind her back in case she tumbles. Tie an object that will make her look up and reach high.
Put your baby in front of a mirror and show her the parts of her face. For example, touch your baby’s nose and say “nose”. Help her to touch her own nose.
Play peek-a-boo mirror. With the baby on your lap, sit in front of the mirror. Show your baby her face, then cover the mirror with a cloth. Say “Where is [baby’s name]?”, then lift the cloth and say “There she is!” Do this again, and see if she removes the cloth herself.
Play light show with your baby. Attach a thin colored paper on a flashlight to make a colored light. Play it across the ceiling, on walls, or on her toys. Turn the light on and off. Talk to her while playing, saying things like “Where did the light go?”, “Look it’s on the wall”, etc.
Read picture books with your baby.
Repeat your baby’s wordlike sounds. Hold your baby so she can see your face. Repeat a sound you hear her say, such as la-la-la or da-da-da. Give her time to say it back, and show her your pleased face when she repeats the sound.
Let your baby bang away with objects that make banging noise when hit, like pots and pans. In the beginning, she may hit the pots accidentally, but eventually she will learn to tap them on purpose.
Give your baby toys that make sounds like rattle or squeaky toys. Teach her how to use them. Let her play with it as she listens to recorded music or better yet, your singing voice.
Play hide and find. Show your baby a toy and tuck it your pocket, with a little bit showing. See if she will look for it. Ask “Where is it?” If she finds it, make her play with it for a minute and then hide it again.
Make your baby find you with your voice. Place her on a cradle chair or a car seat in the middle of the room. Walk back and forth in front of her and make sounds with your voice or do funny noises. Let her follow the sound of your voice.
Teach your baby to let go. Show your baby that you are holding a toy that makes a sound when dropped, like a bell. Drop the toy from your fingers. Let her do it. This game makes her learn how to make her fingers do what she wants.
Let your baby imitate your actions. Help your baby try to copy you doing simple things like clapping your hands, making kissing sounds and spreading your arms wide. Hug him and show your appreciation each time she tries to copy you.
Help your baby practice walking by giving her things t hold to. Set up some chairs so she can move from one to the other. Put a toy on each chair so she will want to move to it.
Introduce your baby to strangers. Make your baby feel secure by holding her in your arms. Let her watch and listen to the stranger for her to get to know him. If she seems willing, help her touch the other’s hand for a minute. You can also let the stranger hand her a toy or something pretty like a flower.
Give your child a box with a small hole on top. Get him to drop a toy into the hole. Ask him to find it again. Help him discover the larger hole in the side that gives another way for her to get the toy. Talk to her about what she is doing.
Your baby’s first puzzle play can consist of things that can “fit together” like some balls into a small muffin pan.
Call your baby from across the room, and when she looks at you, hand her an object like her bottle or a toy.
Introduce your baby to new tastes. Make her comfortable at her table and lay some things on it for her to taste. Let her taste whatever she picks up. Make her feel good about tasting new things.
Play with pop-up toys. These are toys with characters suddenly bursting out of a hatch when a button is pressed or manipulated. This makes your baby exercise her fine motor skills and understanding cause and effect.
Play a memory game. Sit with your baby on the floor. Show her a box with a big picture of something she knows. Turn the picture away and ask her to find it again. When the picture is out of sight, remind her again by using the name of the picture. Help her if she needs it.
When your baby is crawling, play a gentle game of chase. Start crawling slowly after your baby, saying “I’m gonna get you” When you got her, say “I got you!” and lift her high into the air, kiss her, or give her ribs a little tickle.
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