While you might have a desire to keep your baby entertained, this isn’t a bored houseguest we’re talking about. Your baby has enough on his plate – like making sense of this strange environment and taking yet another nap – without worrying about having a dull parent.
However, there are some activities that are more beneficial than others at different stages of your baby’s development:
Newborn to 3 months
- Use your face. Since babies can only focus on objects around 20cm away, your face makes the perfect object to study – and really, the only thing they’ll want to look at.
- Black and white. Babies can only see strong contrasting colors at this point, so black and white toys and mobiles will be the most stimulating for them.
- Tummy time. Once upon a time, babies were put to sleep on their stomachs. While this tends to be the most natural and comfortable way for many babies to sleep, it’s also the riskiest when dealing with SIDS. We now know that it’s safer for babies to sleep on their backs, but there is a minor drawback: Babies spend much less time developing their back and arm muscles as they did when the majority of their day was spent laying on their stomachs. Also, too much time on their back can cause a flat spot in the skull. Because of this, it’s important to spend about 10 minutes a day supervising them while they play on their tummies.
- Story time. Okay, so they probably can’t even focus on the book in your hand, but it’s never too early to make a habit out of reading. Besides, hearing the voice that’s been comforting them for so many months is always soothing.
Newborns spend most of their time sleeping and feeding – some (we’ve heard!) sleep up to 20 hours a day! – so make the most of his awake-time by playing with your baby and choosing baby toys that will stimulate his senses and teach him how to control his body. By the time he is three months, your baby will be able to reach out purposefully, play with his fingers, grasp an object, move his legs and arms, roll and life his head.
At this stage introduce:
- A Mobile. While your baby won’t be able to focus on the individual items on a mobile, he will enjoy the movement a mobile provides, along with attempting to reach out to grab it. As young babies see highly contrasting colours best, try to find a mobile that is black and white for maximum effect.
- Music and Singing. From the moment of birth, your baby can hear a full range of sounds. While high pitched sounds can be upsetting, he’ll find low pitched noises soothing. Research has discovered the ‘Mozart Effect’ where early exposure to music – even while still in the womb – helps build the brain connections that are used for passing along thoughts and information. This early exposure to music also improves overall health, boosts IQ and cements emotional bonds.
- Simple Toys. Your baby doesn’t need a lot of toys at this stage – just make sure that the toys you choose are stimulating and can lead to learning. Toys that develop his senses are popular – squeaky, rustling soft toys that are graspable (and safe to put in his mouth) and are in highly contrasting colours are great.
When your bub hits 3-6 months, they’ll love you talking to them.
3-6 month old babies
By 3 months old, baby has discovered his hands – and his mouth. With his fists opening a little more, he’ll begin to be able to hold objects and bring them up to his mouth for a test suck – almost everything he grabs is likely to end up in his mouth.
During the 3-6 month stage, your baby will learn to roll, and move forward using his legs to push. He’ll be able to hold onto objects with his hands and he’ll get better control of his head through the strengthening of his neck muscles. By six months, some babies will be able to bear weight on their legs when they’re held in a standing position, as well as sit with some support.
Your baby will also begin initiating communication with you by smiling, laughing, and cooing. He will become more aware of his environment and look around to see what’s going on.
At this stage, introduce some baby talk
Your baby is starting to recognise voices and be more responsive, and although they won’t be able to roll a ball or even laugh at a joke, playtime is an important part of their development.
- Talk. Some parents are more comfortable with ‘baby talk’ – you know, high pitched squeals and jibber-jabber – but the truth is, it doesn’t matter how you talk to a baby at this age, just that you do it. Tell them about your day; narrate what you’re doing; explain your political positions. Getting them used to hearing your voice and the language in general will be beneficial and mesmerising no matter what you’re actually saying. And remember – it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it.
Exaggerated smiles and sing-song voices always help to keep the baby’s attention. Ask questions and wait for a response. Make your baby feel included in the conversation, even though he doesn’t understand a word. When you hear a coo or a gurgle, listen and then respond. Studies show babies learn more when they’re being talked with, not at. Skip the pronouns.
- Skip the pronouns. You have a long way to go before your baby starts talking back, but it’s never too early to get them used to hearing familiar words. ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’ are more recognizable than ‘I’ or ‘him’ so try and be conscious of the words you’re using.
- Copy your baby. When you hear your baby say, ‘ahh-goo’, repeat ‘ahh-goo’. Make a game out of copying his little gurgles, so eventually your baby will start imitating your language. ?Sing. Even if you can’t carry a tune, just the sound of a song (with accompanying hand movements, like Itsy Bitsy Spider) is always a sure-fire hit. It’s a fun, melodic way to introduce the language.?
- Read. It’s never too early to instill a love of literature. A good way to integrate reading into your everyday routine is right before bedtime.?Tummy time. It’s important to set aside time for the baby to play on his tummy. Since babies are spending less time on their tummies (now that experts agree they should sleep on their backs), they need to build up their muscles during play time.
- Play airplane. By the end of the month, your baby might have more control over his body, making play time a little more adventurous. While sitting up with your knees bent, put baby tummy-down on your shins and carefully lay down on the floor. Bounce your legs up and down, taking your baby for a ride. (Wait until your baby has good control over his or her neck and always be gentle.)
Interactive toys are the go for your 6-9 month old bubba.
6-9 month old babies
Your baby will use creeping, or bottom shuffling, as a way of getting around. It may not look pretty, but it will get him where he wants to go! Between seven to nine months, your baby may transition to proper crawling using his arms to power him along, but with a little practice he’ll learn to move quickly and efficiently using his legs to do most of the work.
Your baby’s fine motor skills at 9 months will be developing rapidly, and he’ll be working hard to perfect the pincer move – using his thumb and pointing finger to pick up objects. At this age, he needs a variety of different types of toy to satisfy his curiosity and enhance his learning about his environment.
At this stage, your baby will be crawling at top-speed and may begin to pull himself to standing before progressing to cruising (walking while holding onto furniture) and eventually walking unassisted.
Your baby will really love interactive toys – as he is beginning to understand cause and effect, he’ll really enjoy toys that make things happen. Pressing buttons, making lights flash and music play will be favourites and he’ll love to play with them over and over (and over!) again. There’s no such thing as too much of a good thing at this age!
At this stage introduce:
- Reasoning toys. Your baby can now understand that a toy may be hidden inside or behind another toy, so choose toys that will encourage the development of his reasoning skills by making him work things out.
- Interactive toys. Your baby can now make things happen, which is very exciting for him. Toys that respond to your baby’s actions will be popular.