Did you know that the brain of an infant is 250% more active than the brain of an adult? The infant brain produces connections faster in the first year of life than any other time of life! If that doesn’t make you want to do some productive play with your baby, I don’t know what does! The first year of life is incredible! Simple brain games and simple play can create those connections in the brain (called synapses) quicker in that first year than any other year!
Needless to say, the brain of an infant is unbelievable! A lot of times people will say to me that they don’t know how to keep their newborn entertained. It is actually pretty easy to create fun and exciting learning experiences for those tiny little humans. Here are a few of the easiest games and activities to use with a new baby. There is absolutely NO prep and you won’t have to spend a penny! Let’s get those active little brains workin’!
1. Sensory experiences
(Research shows that positive sensory experiences and social interactions with adults advance babies’ cognitive abilities)
- Let your baby to experiment with different textured fabrics. (Terry cloth, wool, velvet, satin, faux fur etc..)
- Try rubbing these different fabrics and textures on your baby’s skin as they lay on the floor or in your arms.
- Talk to them about the different feeling of each fabric. (Scratchy, soft, fluffy, smooth) Keep in mind- baby’s skin is extremely sensitive so don’t use things that are too scratchy or rough!
- Sensory exploration is especially fun during tummy time! Try laying your baby on their tummy on different fabrics and textures. Or put it directly in front of them So they can reach out to feel the new texture! (Remember- Try not to lay your baby on a soft, squishy surfaces (such as a bed or couch) during tummy time. This makes tummy time frustrating and difficult for your baby. Firm areas such as the floor are a much better surface when practicing tummy time.) For a fun tutorial on awesome “texture boards” click here.
- Give your baby opportunities to experience different smells.
- Take them outside after a rain storm to smell the rain.
- Talk about what you are cooking or fruits you are cutting and allow them to smell them.
2. The name game
This is a great game to play with newborns and older babies! Babies as young as one day old recognize a parents voice!
- While your baby is laying on their back, stand to one side of your baby. Gently repeat their name until they turn their head or move their eyes towards you. When they have made a movement towards you move to the other side of your baby and repeat. Gently rub or kiss their cheek to show you are acknowledging that they are playing with you!
3. Silly Diaper Songs
- Sing songs or hum tunes during diaper changes. Diaper changes can be rough so a nice song or silly dance can help your baby stay entertained and happy. Your baby will begin to recognize consistent tunes and will one day try to imitate those sounds and songs.
- Don’t be afraid to be silly! Even newborns get excited about silly movements, noises and words. Sing in different voices, octaves, pitches etc…. (If you notice your baby is starting to get overstimulated gently hum or sing a quiet song.)
4. Body Parts
- While lotioning your baby after bath time, name each body part as you lotion. “I’m rubbing your toes!” , “Here is your tummy”
- Try changing the pitch of your voice as you play this simple game. Research shows when baby hears a high pitch voice, heart rates increase, indicating that he/she feels secure and cheerful. When you speak in a lower pitch voice, your baby feels soothed and content.
- You can also sing the name of a body part over and over while pointing. “Toes, toes toes, I have your toes” etc…
5. Baby Ball
- Place your baby on a large inflatable ball. Place your baby on his/her tummy. While holding onto her hands roll her back and forth. (Make sure your baby has proper head control or support your baby’s head while doing this). Rocking back and forth on the ball is entertaining and soothing to babies.
- Sit your baby up on the ball while supporting their neck and head. Gently bounce your baby while saying “up, down, up, down”.
- For a fun twist, if you have an exercise ball- lay your baby on the floor and let them watch you play and bounce on the ball!!!
6. Nonverbal game
- Touching, holding and cuddling a baby not only comforts but it also helps promote brain development.
- Communicate with your baby by looking into their eyes and responding to their movements and sounds. You can also repeat baby’s movements. Wiggling arms, sticking their tongue out etc….
- Hold your baby close to you as you walk around a room. Stop walking, look into your baby’s eyes rub noses or cheeks and continue walking. (Do this a few times)
7. Self Talk
Research has shown that self talk is key in helping the brain make connections with language. Not only in the infant years but all the way up through the preschool and early childhood years!!
- While you are with your baby talk about everything you are doing and seeing. “I’m making the bed!” “Here goes the pillows!” “I’m stirring dinner” “I see a baby!” It will feel silly at first, and you might feel weird talking to yourself, but it makes a huge impact in language connections! Talk about everything! Even if it is just to tell baby things you see in the room.
- Change your voice from time to time. Try different pitches, try singing, using silly voices etc…
8. Riding a bicycle.
- Lay your baby down on their back. Pull her legs straight. When her legs are straight softly rub or tap the bottom of her feet. This should cause her to point her toes downward and bend her knees. Repeat this while singing a song or cheering for baby when she bends her knees again.
- Gently move your baby’s legs like she is riding a bicycle (If she resists, do not force her. Just try again later.) Sing “Row, Row, Row your boat” as you go and end with a cheer. Your baby will learn to anticipate the cheer at the end.
- Helping baby to increase strength in her thigh muscles early on helps later with crawling and walking!
9. Games with Rattles
- Hold a rattle about a foot away from baby’s face. Gently shake the rattle until you get baby’s attention. When you have her attention slowly move the rattle to one side and another. When your baby’s vision increases try moving the rattle to other places in the room to see how far your baby can follow the rattle.
- This can also be really fun with small blinking toys. (Again, if you see that your baby is getting over stimulated, stop and let them rest)
10. Night time Play
- Even at night you can help stimulate your baby’s brain development. Baby’s wake up many times during the night (did you need me to tell you that???). So, you can use those times as a small learning opportunity! Shadows that show up on a wall by a nightlight and mobile make very interesting shapes and visual sensory stimulation for your baby. If you can arrange for shadows to be on the wall you can help with early vision development.
- You can also try a baby projector and sound machine. These show colorful pictures on the ceiling that baby can look at. It can also be helpful in getting a baby to self soothe and put them selves back to sleep.
Babies can get overstimulated quickly. If you start to notice that your baby is getting agitated, fussy, starts to keep their head turned away etc… stop the game or play and give them a little quiet time. Use a soothing swing, vibrator chair, soft chair or cushion can help calm and sooth them when they are overstimulated.
Thank you to my amazing sister-in-law for letting me use her gorgeous baby and dashing husband for these pictures! (Could she get any cuter, I mean seriously!!!) Check her out at tastesbetterfromscratch.com for some INCREDIBLE recipes!!!!