While secure, nurturing relationships are the cornerstone of healthy brain development, there are some other things that parents can do to help nurture healthy brain development. Here are some of my favourite brain-building activities for babies.
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“The brain is the only unfinished organ at birth” (Schiller, n.d.).
Cause and Effect
Babies learn through interactions with things in their world. Set up activities that allow your infant to experiment with cause and effect.
* Stack some soft blocks for your infant. Watch him knock it down. Repeat.
* Place a soft ball by your infant, when it rolls away, bring it back to her. Repeat. When your infant is older, she will enjoy crawling over to the ball and pushing it away.
* Shaking any toy that makes noise is a great cause and effect activity.
* Set up shatterproof mirrors for your infant to interact with. Wave at the mirror, make faces, smile, etc.
* Place a lightweight piece of fabric on a chair or stool by your baby. Allow your baby to pull the fabric off. Repeat.
This is a wonderful time to expose your infant to a variety of music. Classical, jazz, ethnic, contemporary… make time to play music for your infant. Observe his face as he hears the tunes. You can also dance with him or play along with his favourite rattles.
Read. Read. Read.
I can not over-emphasize the importance of reading to young children. This key component of brain development applies to babies as well! Short, repetitive stories are wonderful for infants. A list of my favourite Board Books can be found HERE.
Allow your infant to interact with books too! Babies learn so much by touching and putting things in their mouths! My favourite books are the “Indestructible Books”. The manufacturers claim that these books are “chew proof, tear proof, non-toxic and washable”. I also love that the nursery rhyme stories show interesting, worldly “twists” on the rhymes.
Mary Had a Little Lamb takes place in Africa!
Hickory Dickory Dock takes place in London, and the clock is none other than Big Ben!
Humpty Dumpty falls off the Great Wall of China!
Old MacDonald Has a Farm takes place on a farm in Bolivia.
Frere Jacques our favourite French baker, dreams of delicious treats in Paris, France.
Hey, Diddle, Diddle involves a slick cat from New Orleans who likes to jam on his fiddle!
Rhymes and Songs
Words are a big part of your infant’s brain development. Sing to your infant… any simple song will do! You don’t even have to be a good singer… your baby doesn’t care if you can carry a tune. Simply make eye contact with your baby and belt out those tunes. Simple classics like Mary Had A Little Lamb, The Wheels On The Bus and the Itsy, Wincy Spider will surely delight your infant.
Infants learn about their world through their senses. Expose your infant to a variety of sensory experiences. Set up an environment which is “safe” for them to explore, taste and touch.
* Place a variety of different fabrics around your infant and allow him to explore the different textures and colours. You can extend this activity by using descriptive words with your infant while he is exploring the fabrics i.e. rough, soft, smooth, silky, prickly, etc.
* Fill a large Ziploc bag with shaving cream and two different colours of paint. Tape the opening closed and secure it to your infant’s high chair with more packing tape. Allow her to squish and squeeze the bag. The texture is unique and the mixing of the colours is fascinating. The bag can be filled with other things as well… hair gel and glitter; water, food colouring and oil; etc. Get creative!
* Allow your infant to finger paint. Afraid they’ll eat the paint? Allow them to finger paint with food (rice cereal, pudding, etc.).
* Infants are fascinated by water. Set up a small basin of water and allow him to splash and play with it. (Always make sure to be present when your infant is playing with water).
* Cut shapes out of sandpaper, foil, and other materials and tape the shapes to the tray of her highchair. Your baby will love touching these interesting things!
What baby doesn’t love Peek-A-Boo? You can also cover baby’s favourite toy with a piece of fabric or a bowl, then unveil it… now you see it, now you don’t!
Talk. Talk. Talk.
Your baby loves you and your voice delights him in ways you can’t even imagine. You are his world! Talk to your baby frequently.
* Let your baby know all the steps of her diaper change… “Off come your pants; there’s your belly; Mommy’s wiping your bum clean; here’s a fresh diaper, etc.
* If your baby is in the early babbling phase, mimic his sounds.
* Extend her simple sounds into words (i.e. mmmmm… mama; baaaaa… baby; duh… dada, etc.)
These are special, precious moments . It is such a privilege to watch our babies learn and grow. I hope you find these activity ideas useful. If you have any other ideas to contribute, please feel free to share.
Schiller, P. (n.d.). Brain research and implications for early childhood programs. Retrieved January 19, 2012, from, http://www.teamcnionline.com/company-login/TrainingExchange/pdf/EarlyCare2.pdf.