Bringing a new baby home is an exciting and stressful event, and undoubtedly your first priorities revolve around the baby’s immediate needs. But once you and your infant settle into life together, you’ll be looking toward the future – how do you give your child the best start in life? It starts with creating learning opportunities early, whether that means bringing home the most interesting educational toys and games, or building the right environment for your baby to explore their new environment.
1. Think about educational toys.
Children are designed to absorb information from the very beginning. All you need to do is provide tools and activities to facilitate that learning process. Playing with Montessori-focused development toys starting in the first few months of your baby’s life, for example, can help make those important brain-eye connections that help fast-track dexterity and physical coordination. High-contrast objects – those designed with black-and-white coloring – attract the most interest and attention from your baby’s new eyes. Simple classic objects like a ball help your baby track movement, and rattles help them to pinpoint sound. Toys designed sustainably and with non-toxic substances help protect your infant’s health from the earliest age, further helping to set up a strong foundation for them to focus on learning.
2. Use your voice.
The sweet baby talk we tend to use with infants may come naturally to us for a reason: It helps your baby’s brain to develop, facilitating her ability to learn language and conversation. Babies are drawn more to the higher tones and overemphasized words that go along with baby-talk, keeping her attention and helping synapses to fire up. Those important connections help her to develop language skills, as well as build her learning skills as a whole.
Pediatricians say getting some alone time with your infant is beneficial to creating early communication skills – spend some time talking one-on-one with your baby, and when she tries to respond, maintain eye contact and listen just as you would to anyone else. Limit noise from TV and other screens – real live people are the best teachers. If you run out of things to say, try singing, reading out loud, and walking with your child around the house and pointing out objects. You also can narrate what you’re doing while you’re taking care of her, making dinner, folding laundry, or doing anything at all.
3. Get visual.
Just as hearing your voice is a vital part of your baby’s development, so is seeing your face. Stimulating your infant’s vision is another key way to help those rapidly connecting synapses continue to make important connections. Don’t be afraid to get silly – play peek-a-boo and make funny faces. Always make eye contact while talking to your baby. Show your baby himself in the mirror and let him watch his own movement in the glass. Take your baby outside to show him the outdoors. Point out the difference between very different things like flowers and trees, and between not-so-different things, like two kinds of flowers. A trip to the grocery store can provide endless opportunities to see colors, sizes, shapes, sounds, and other people. And as always, reading to your infant helps stimulate his senses in a number of essential ways – visual, tactile, auditory – that work to develop communication and learning skills.
4. Encourage exploration.
Your new baby will develop quickly and want to start moving around. Facilitate that development by giving your baby plenty of tummy time, which helps your infant strengthen neck and shoulder muscles and improve motor skills. Some babies aren’t keen on being on their stomachs at first, but starting with short sessions and having someone sit in front of the baby will help encourage movement and interaction.
Walk around with your baby and let her feel different surfaces in your house, like a countertop and a soft pillow, and talk about how and why they are different. Even mealtime is an opportunity to explore: Foods with different textures are endlessly fascinating to babies with roving hands. Once your baby starts moving, she’ll naturally want to explore. Help create problem-solving and spatial-relations opportunities by building obstacle courses or forts for your baby to explore – no need to get fancy – drape blankets over chairs, set up empty boxes, or make tunnels out of cushions and pillows.
Remember, you don’t need to spend a lot of money or get complicated when interacting with your baby. It’s the one-on-one interactions that count, and you can incorporate all of the above techniques together – play with simple toys and talk about what’s happening, or make simple games out of what you have. To play peek-a-boo, you just need your face and your imagination. These are all ways to help you and your infant to bond, and to help your baby start to learn more about their brand new world.