Playing games isn’t all for fun—it’s also the best way for your baby to learn and develop social, cognitive and motor skills. Read on for playtime tips for babies of all ages, as well as ways to expand your baby’s learning potential.
Sight. A baby’s vision is extremely limited in the beginning. While a toile pastel may appeal to your sense of style, sharp black-and-white images and other high-contrast color patterns will hold your baby’s attention best. For early visual stimulation, hang a mobile 8-15 inches from your baby’s face and off to one side, rather than straight ahead. As he learns to focus his eyes, move a bold-colored toy from side to side to train the ocular muscles.
Newborns also love to gaze at faces, whether real or drawn, so provide him with plenty of smiles (cartoon drawings come in handy when you’re running on three hours of sleep!). Toward the end of the “fourth trimester,” sit your baby in front of a window or fish tank to expose him to new views.
Sound. In the womb, a baby receives very little visual stimulation, but his hearing is actively sending messages to the brain, which may remember the early echoes of the outside world. If you sang or read to your baby in-utero, repeat the same lullabies and stories now to trigger his memory and remind him of the peace of his watery abode. Play soft, peaceful classical music—try Mozart or Vivaldi—or amuse your little one with soft-sounding musical toys.
Touch. A relaxing baby massage makes for good bonding time for both of you! Gentle, rhythmic strokes will improve your baby’s circulation, relax him for bedtime and activate nerve sensations to familiarize him with his body. Bring out toys with different textures and fabrics to hold against your baby’s cheek or put in his fist. Let him grasp a rattle to begin mentally coordinating touch, vision and hearing.
Fine motor maturation. While he won’t be reaching for toys until the fourth month or later, your baby’s reflexes will allow him to grasp rattles or other smaller toys in his hands. A cradle gym with enticing colors will encourage him to reach for toys when he’s able.
Gross motor milestones. Tummy time! For at least a few minutes each day, give your baby some tummy time to help him reach the muscular milestones of lifting his head and shoulders, rolling over and eventually crawling. Put a toy off to the side of his play mat to entice him to roll over. Also try lying on your back, legs bent, with your baby lying face-down on your shins, parallel to the floor. He can look at you while exercising his arms and legs like a swimmer.
Intellectual improvement. We all learn by trying new things, so take your baby to new places! Let him experience the sights, sounds and smells of somewhere other than home, even if it’s just a trip to the supermarket. Read stories, name objects and, most importantly, talk to him to build his familiarity with language.