Children’s brains develop fastest from birth to age three. More learning takes place during these first months than at any other time during life. Their early experiences affect how children will think and learn in later years.
Parents who provide nurturing and rich learning environments from the very beginning bestow on their offspring an immense advantage which will continue to pay dividends throughout their futures.
Some suggestions follow for enriching baby’s environment during these all-important first months, so as to maximize his physical and mental development.
* Gross Motor Skills
Tummy time is important for the first three to five months, to strengthen the baby’s back and neck muscles. Two or three times a day, place the baby on his stomach and roll a brightly-colored ball or shake a rattle directly in front of him. Soon he will be able to hold his head up for increasingly longer periods of time.
As he lays on his back, gently hold his hands and pull him up into a sitting position. This strengthens the arm and back muscles needed for sitting up.
While he is still on his back, move his legs in a cycling motion. This exercises and strengthens leg and hip muscles and also helps get rid of gas, and helps avoid constipation.
Provide baby with a wide variety of things to watch. During the daytime, move his crib or seat into the midst of family activities. Colorful mobiles over his bed, brightly-colored toys, flickering pictures on the TV will all fascinate him and stimulate his sense of sight. He will soon delight in playing games of peek-a-boo with family members.
Of all the sounds around, babies love the sound of their parents’ voices best. Talk to him, read to him, sing to him as often as possible. Let him hear different types of music, from lullabies to lively dance tunes. Sew bells on the toes of his socks so he can kick in time to the music. The rhythm and rhyming patterns of nursery rhymes will delight him, and he may soon clap the tempo, as you repeat them.
Babies naturally put everything in their mouths as they seek to investigate the world. It is vital to keep small objects out of reach, to prevent choking. As soon as a little one is allowed to eat and drink foods other than breast milk or formula, offer a variety of juices, fruit and vegetables. It is best to start off with only a teaspoon or two of each at one time, in case of allergies.
Offer toys with a variety of textures. The large, colorful cloth or board books are good, and some offer a variety of textures for the baby to touch: a woolly lamb, a silky kitten, a bumpy toad, or a scratchy porcupine. Give him a wide variety of things to hold and manipulate from his environment: an ice cube, a warm bottle of milk, a soft plush toy, a ball of crinkly paper.
Everyone enjoys good smells and babies are no exception. As opportunities arise, name the household odors you find pleasant as you sniff the air: bread baking, light perfume, a bouquet of roses, cookies fresh from the oven, roast chicken and gravy. Soon the baby will be sniffing and smiling in agreement, even if he cannot yet eat the foods producing some of the pleasant aromas.
* Fine Motor Skills
As soon as he is ready, give baby a variety of brightly colored toys to play with. Show him how to build a tower with large blocks. Help him to hold a spoon when he eats, and introduce a sipping cup from which he can drink. Give him a large crayon or two and help him make a “picture” on a sheet of white paper. Nesting toys and two or four-piece puzzles will help him develop eye-hand coordination.
Attentive and creative parents will soon be able to add more advanced activities to the above suggestions. Every child is different and each will progress at his own rate. The key words to remember are safety, love, communication, play and variety. Parents who immerse their babies in environments replete with these elements may congratulate themselves on doing a terrific job!
Accessed: November 5, 2010