Keep ‘Em Thinking: 11 Ways to Stimulate Your Baby
From newborns to toddlers, every baby wants to have fun — and learn along the way. Here are 11 ideas to engage your baby every day.
For newborns, this is a simple but totally effective way to get the gears moving. Letters or numbers actually appear to move when placed in front of a newborn’s still untrained eyes. So hold your baby, or put him or her in a bouncy seat or crib, so they can casually observe the cards. Black and white cards, with any combination of shapes are great — you can even make them yourself with cardstock or computer paper.
Anywhere from 6 to 9 months, your baby will start imitating you (and older siblings). He’s really paying attention at this age, so indulge his confidence, along with that hand-eye coordination, by repeating a few key words and gestures until he catches on. Try “Bye-bye” with a wave, “Hello” with your hand as a phone, and “Let’s clap!” followed by applause, of course. No little face has ever been as proud as the one who finally masters one of these with you watching.
Recycled Water Bottles
Babies in the 6 month to 1-year-old range like this one best. Save those single serving water bottles for an even better use than recycling. Fill each one with something different — dried beans, nuts and bolts, rice, even water with food coloring and glitter — replace the cap and let your baby slosh, shake and roll them all day long. (For extra protection, reinforce the caps with water-proof plumbers tape or medical tape.)
In and Out
From about 9 months on, organizing becomes a very big thing. For most little guys, this means taking things apart, emptying baskets, rifling through closets and occasionally trying to put things back. Help your baby and yourself says Aurora, mother of four girls. “Have a drawer or box filled with stuff (too big to choke on) that you don’t care about and let the baby pull every item out. Put it all back in and let them do it all over again. We play this game a lot!”
This one works for babies of all ages, but it’s always best on-the-go. For little babies, you’ll do the heavy lifting: Point out the colors you see while driving or pushing the stroller. For bigger kids 18 months and older, have them join in. Where’s a white car? Do you see a green tree? What color is that house?
Once your baby becomes clear on the fact that she’s got parts, usually around a year, you can kick it up a notch. Have her point to her tummy and toes. Once she masters that, ask about your own tummy and toes. Need an extra challenge? Introduce the body in another language. Our toddler loves pointing to her pancia and piedini, which are Italian for tummy and feet.
This one’s girly for sure, but if you’ve got one, try it. When our second baby was born, my tea-loving mother-in-law stayed with us and hosted a daily tea party for our then 20-month-old, Phoebe. At her miniature table and chair set, complete with tiny cups, saucers and snacks, they spent an hour every afternoon setting up the tablecloth, pouring each other refills (warm milk flavored with a hint of herbal tea), dishing out crackers and dried fruit and cleaning up. The lessons learned were empathy (“Would you like more?), self-control (taking only a little at a time) and responsibility (setting up and cleaning up.) To these I say, yes, please!
Simon Says is an oldie but a goodie. In this simplified version, you’re Simon but there’s no way to lose. Every time you tell your toddler to do something, they win if they do it. I like to shout, “Two arms up! One arm down! Touch your tummy! Way up high! Way down low!” Sometimes we go fast. Sometimes I pause for a few beats. It’s also useful at a bus stop or anywhere else where the waiting game just isn’t that fun.
Most kids love books, and here’s a great way to indulge in a toddler’s growing sense of independence: Let him pick the books, even if it’s the same one over and over. Then, encourage him to “read” on his own. Looking at pictures, remembering the story line, even narrating will keep him stimulated. And there’s an added benefit, too. One of my husband’s most brilliant parenting moves was setting 3-5 books by our toddler’s bed and telling her she could read them in the morning until she heard the “beep, beep”. She gets to enjoy her own books, we get to sleep until the alarm actually goes off. Sometimes.
For toddlers who can talk well, this is a fun way to reinforce the names of things outside your home. While you’re pulling away from the park in the stroller, from the grocery store in the car, or any other place together, take turns saying good-bye to something. Good-bye, trees. Good-bye, benches. Good-bye, parking lot. It’s a vocabulary lesson with a built-in distraction for those who might not want to head home just yet.
Turn up the tunes and dance with your baby, rocking to the beat or making up your own moves. Then, either using a remote or a quick move, turn off the music and freeze. If either of you keep dancing, you get tickled — guess who usually gets this treatment? You’re working on concentration skills here. Can your little one pay attention even when he’s distracted? For little babies it’s simpler: Just turn the music off and see if she notices. Turn it on again, turn it off again, dance, dance, dance.