Parenting can be challenging at any stage – caring for a newborn, dealing with toddlers, starting school, the ‘Tweeny” years and not to mention the teenage years can present many problems and heartache for parents. There are key duties that we have as a parent, for example, keeping our child safe, healthy, warm, feed, teaching them how to behave well and so forth but we also have a duty to build a strong connection with our child to support them through the everyday ups and downs of growing up.
With a newborn, building the strong connection can start from the moment your baby is born. Simple things like physical contact, feeding, cuddling, and talking to them are fundamental steps in building that connection or ‘bond’ with your baby. As they grow these activities can continue but one other aspect of parenting which is vital, is to enjoy and encourage playtime with your baby. Playtime gives you an opportunity to enjoy play with your child and also to help them to develop their skills of observation, touch, speech, motor skills, smell, taste and much more. In this article, we look at what you can play with your baby at each stage of the first twelve months to support and encourage their development.
Newborn babies are learning from the moment they are born. They are adapting to their new environment – sounds, smell, the sound of their mother’s and father’s voice, taste, light and more. At this stage, some of the most important supports for development include:
- Have plenty of physical contact and make eye contact.
- Talk to your baby and wait for a response. It may be a movement of the hands or a little noise but this is the beginning of you teaching them the art of conversation – speaking, listening, responding, listening – the basic ‘turn taking’ skills of holding a conversation with someone.
- Research has shown that babies respond to strong primary colours rather than pastels. Use bright contracting colours to stimulate and attract them.
- Allow your baby to lie on a mat on the floor and stretch out and move freely. Remember – safety first! Always supervise your baby at this stage.
From one month
By this stage, your baby may be beginning to smile when an adult smiles at them. The noises that they make in “conversation” will be extended to cooing and gurgling. They are also able to follow the movement of items with their eyes. To encourage development at this stage:
- Try to use a supporting chair so that your baby can observe what is happening around them.
- Talk, smile and sing to your baby as often as possible. Continue the “conversation” times with your baby to promote this development.
- Hang brightly coloured mobiles, rattles and toys near to your baby to help development of their focusing and co-ordination skills.
From 3 months
Your baby is growing, expressing the beginnings of his/her personality and responding to situations with exciting kicking, hand movements and sounds. Their gross and fine motor skills are continuing to develop as well as the sensory and social skills. Try some of the following to encourage development:
- Let your child lie on a mat on their tummy. This will encourage development of the neck and spine as they try to hold their head up to look around.
- Your baby is learning how to clasp and unclasp their hands. Introduce toys that are easy for them to clasp and hold
- Their focus has improved and they can now move their eyes to focus on the same point. Colourful mobiles should be used to help to support their practice at focussing.
- Introduce toys that stimulate your baby’s developing senses. Bright colours, moving toys, toys that make a sound when touched and so on are excellent ways of promoting their sensory development.
- Continue the art of conversation with your baby, talking, singing, and making eye contact as often as possible.
From 6 months
At this stage, babies can usually reach out and grab things and very often puts everything that they pick up to the mouth! They continue to expand on their speech development, making more sounds including babbling and imitating sounds. This is also a stage when babies can begin to “make strange” when they are with people that they are not completely familiar with. There are many ways in which you can support this phase including:
- Continue to allow your child to lie on a mat on the floor to encourage the gross motor skills including rolling over and gripping their feet.
- Continue to leave toys that they can pick up and clasp around their mat and play area.
- Start to introduce the meaning for words by teaching words or phrases such as “Mama”, “DaDa”, “ByeBye” etc.
- Play games to raise their arms up and down – introduce the words “up” and “down”.
- Introduce toys that encourage stacking such as bricks and beakers.
- Introduce books that you can look at together and point to the items and say the names of the items.
- Encourage your baby to point – you can do this by pointing to the item yourself and then saying the name; “look at the CAR” then repeat the name of the object “CAR”.
- Continue with conversation, singing, and cuddling as before.
Continue to stimulate with toys and activities as before and expand on the range and type of toys that your baby has. In addition, encourage your baby’s motor development and mobility as much as possible.
- When your baby is able to sit up – allow him/her to play on a play mat in a sitting position. This will strengthen their muscles.
- Place toys a little away from your child to encourage movement
- Provide beakers and water toys at bath time to encourage play with water.
- Play ‘peek – a – boo’ games
- Play with balls – rolling small balls to your child and encouraging them to roll back
- Remember – keep the conversation going! Your child will now be more words and how these can be put together to form the beginning of sentences or phrases. For example, point to the car in the book and say “CAR”, then introduce more language by saying “the RED CAR” and so on.
- From as early as six months, your baby may want to start to feed him/herself. Choose foods and feeding implements that are easy for your baby to use and encourage self feeding. Be prepared for a mess!
On a final note – enjoy the playtime and always:
- Ensure that toys that you introduce are safe for your child’s development stage.
- Keep your baby safe – don’t leave them unattended on play mats or while feeding.
- Always ensure that baby equipment used is age appropriate and reaches safety standards.
- Always be aware of safety and protection for your baby.
- Play, sing, talk and cuddle with your baby and above all – have fun!