During the first year, your baby’s brain is growing and developing at the fastest rate. It is therefore important that we, as parents, play and connect with our babies.
Not only does it help in their brain and cognitive development, such play activities are vital for their social and emotional development. It is through interactions with their trusted caregivers that they learn about the world and social cues, as well as build up their self-esteem.
Activities To Develop Communication Skills
Even though babies may not be able to utter their first words before they are 1 year old, this is the time to lay the foundation for language and communication skills development.
The idea is to create an environment full of opportunities for them to express themselves and take part in shared dialogues through interactions with people in their lives. It is not just about teaching them how to communicate, but also creating the desire in them to communicate. This is definitely not something that can be replaced by tv and online videos.
- Create a back-and-forth dialogue.
When your baby ‘talks’, try to imitate the sounds they make to create a ‘conversation’. You can vary your pitch and pace to make it interesting.
Remember to give sufficient time for your baby to respond and if he/she looks away (or needs a break), allow him/her to do so. Do not pressurize or frustrate the baby.
Conversely, when you’re in the midst of an animated dialogue with your baby, stop and keep a stone-face. This is to try to generate your child’s interest and efforts to get you engaged in the conversation and get you smiling again.
- Talk to your baby as you carry out the daily activities by describing what’s happening, what you’re doing and letting him/her know what’s going to happen next.
For example, “I’m going to help you take off your clothes now as it is time for a bath.”
It is very common and easy for us to be caught up with the hustle and bustle of taking care of the baby and other daily household activities. But do you realize that just talking to your baby about what you are doing now and what’s going to happen next is also a convenient, easy to carry out and yet, important activity?
Take a close look and you’ll notice that babies, even before they can understand what you say, will respond and turn towards voices. Familiar voices like mommy’s voice is always a source of comfort and security.
As your baby grows older into toddlerhood and begins to understand what you say, such a habit will help your toddler become calmer, more confident and well-behaved because they know exactly what to expect next.
- Use real words to name objects/people and describe actions.
Your baby can understand words much earlier than he/she can verbally say the word out. Using real words, instead of babbles or ‘baby language’ to identify/describe objects, people, or actions can help your child build up his/her early vocabulary.
For example, identify and name the object or toy that you give to your baby. When he/she is older, you can reverse the interaction by asking him/her to pass you the named object.
You can also use picture cards or flash cards to expose your baby to more words. Pictures and photographs can also be placed within your baby’s line of vision, such as near the changing table or on the wall.
Direct his/her attention to the pictures and talk to him/her about them. Change the pictures every few weeks to keep him/her interested.
Activities To Develop Language And Numerical Skills
Foundations for language and literacy skills can be built through development of interest in books from birth.
- Every baby enjoys being cuddled and read to.
Surround yourself with books at home, and read to your baby every day with a lot of expressions. While you read, you can also try to engage your baby by pausing to ask your little one what he/she thinks will happen next, before moving on to the next page.
Start with simple and brightly-colored picture books. As you read, show your little one how to turn the pages. When your baby’s fine motor skills are better developed, the page-turning activity will be something that he/she will very much enjoy imitating.
Cardboard books are great because they are durable and easy for his/her tiny fingers.
You can also look out for interactive books such as lift-the-flap books or touch-and-feel books to stimulate their senses.
Here are some of our favorite baby books:
- Get your baby accustomed to the cadences of the language.
Before babies are able to utter their first words, their babbles will be confined to sounds and tones that they habitually hear.
You can look out for books that rhyme, say a simple line of a few repeated words that rhyme with cadences or sing nursery rhymes to your little baby.
- Introduce simple concepts of numbers.
It is way too early to teach your baby to count, but you can help him/her become aware of numerical concepts.
For example, when you’re playing with your baby, massaging him/her, or helping him/her to change, you can help him/her to understand his/her body and also to learn that he/she has 2 hands and 2 feet.
Activities To Develop Motor Skills And Physical Strength
Most motor skills can’t be rushed. We should have realistic expectations and respect for our children’s developmental timetable.
However, we can provide opportunities for them to grow and develop.
When it comes to developing motor skills, physical strength, and flexibility, we can provide them with ample space to move about and explore freely within a safe environment. Time spent in restricted areas like the crib and playpen should be limited.
- Encourage strengthening and coordination of leg muscles.
Most toys are designed to be played using hands, but we can try to switch it around whenever possible to increase the opportunities for them to use their legs.
For example, instead of letting your baby use his/her hands to play with the hanging toys, you can also change the position such that the child can kick the toys with his/her feet.
- Change your child’s position throughout the day.
Babies spend a big part of their time lying on their back. Hence we should try to change their positions throughout the day so that they can strengthen and develop different muscle groups.
Set aside some ‘tummy time’ for your baby to lie on his/her stomach during awake hours. This position is important in strengthening the neck, head and chest muscles, and sets the stage to the developmental milestone of crawling.
To make it more interesting, you can introduce sensory play activities or give them their favorite toys during tummy time.
For more variation, you can also place your baby on a fitness ball and gently rock the baby back and forth.
Some babies may not enjoy nor feel comfortable on their tummies, so do watch out for signs of discomfort and change their position when necessary. It is recommended that babies get 90 minutes of tummy time spread throughout the day.
When your baby is older and have better head control, continue to expose him/her to different positions to foster balance and muscle strength. For example, position the child in a sitting position on your lap or safely supported, and encourage him/her to move and regain balance. You can also assist in sitting him/her on a fitness ball to foster a better sense of balance.
- Let your baby move along with the music.
Play a variety of music, including some of your favorite songs, so that both you and your child can sing and dance along together.
This is not only about physical movements, but also about fostering a sense of connection.
Activities To Develop Self-Esteem
As infants grow, they slowly discover that they are individual persons who are separate from their parents.
You’ll need to continue responding lovingly and consistently towards your children, in order for them to know that they are being cared for and to build up their sense of security and self-confidence.
- Baby massage.
Massaging your baby daily (10-15 minutes) allows you to express your love and affection by physical touch. Research have shown that massage brings about a wide range of benefits – it soothes the baby, stimulates the central nervous system, boosts immunity, and generates greater awareness of their own tiny bodies.
Here are some useful tips on how to massage your baby: https://www.babycentre.co.uk/a1042915/massaging-your-baby
- Peek-a-boo games.
Peek-a-boo games have survived through times and are well-loved by babies across all generations. Playing peek-a-boo with your child shows your child that even though he/she can’t see mommy or daddy for a few moments, mommy/daddy is still here.
This helps in developing a sense of security and the understanding of the concept that things still exist even though they cannot be seen at that moment.
- Play with mirrors.
Hold your baby in front of a mirror, or place an unbreakable mirror nearby during tummy time or near/above the changing table. This allows your baby to watch himself/herself from different angles and positions.
Help him/her to label the various parts of the body and encourage him/her to look back and forth between the reflections and herself/yourself.
Even though he/she may have a lot of fun or be intrigued watching his/her own reflection, it may take more than a year before he/she can actually recognize his/her own reflection.
Activities To Develop Imitation Skills
Imaginative pretend play comes at a later stage, typically when the child is around 2 years old. Infants first need to learn by imitating and copying actions.
- Use simple gestures while saying things.
Babies often can communicate using hand gestures much earlier than they can speak, such as waving goodbyes.
Hence, if you’ve been consistently using specific hand gestures while saying things or identifying objects, your older infant can actually communicate to you what he/she wants much earlier.
- Imitation games using clapping and music.
By the time your child is above 6 months old and learning how to clap, you can try to get him/her to imitate you to clap rhythmically.
You can also introduce musical instruments such as a banging on a drum. Don’t worry about overspending because there are many ideas for DIY musical instruments. For example, you can make your own DIY drum set by cutting the bottom of a tin can (coffee or oatmeal cans) and covering the opening with a variety of materials (balloons, contact paper, or leather).
Such musical games help to introduce rhythm, develop auditory awareness, and promote hand-eye coordination.
- Imitating facial gestures.
Younger infants may not be able to imitate hand gestures yet. But they can imitate facial gestures at an earlier stage. So, try to get them to imitate simple facial actions such as sticking out your tongue, opening your mouth etc.
Activities To Develop Social Skills And Empathy
Through playing and interacting with trusted caregivers, babies can learn about social cues as well as how to care and share with others.
- Play games that require your child and you to take turns.
For example, you roll the ball to your baby and he/she rolls it back to you.
- Get your baby to share their food or toys with you.
When your baby is old enough for finger foods and able to hold his/her own bottle, you can try asking for a little of them. If you have an older child, you can even demonstrate the act of sharing by having the older sibling handing some of his/her food to you and allowing you to drink from his/her cup.
- Verbalize emotions and what you are going to do.
When your child is crying, use words to label his/her feelings and what you’re going to do to soothe him/her. The habit of helping your child verbalize his/her feelings and actions should be continued into toddlerhood.
Similarly, introduce your baby to caring for others by showing him/her how to gently stroke your hair or big brother’s face etc.
Many new parents may feel lost as to what to do with a young infant. But as you have seen, there are a lot of activities and play that can be easily carried out every day. Many of these are not just meant to be enjoyed by the little ones. Parents, too, can have fun in the process. More importantly, a stronger connection and relationship between you and your baby is fostered through these play activities.
Stay tuned for our upcoming articles as we’ll share more sensory activities that you can introduce to your baby. These sensory play activities are meant to stimulate their senses and awareness, and help them learn and understand about the world around them.