Ages & Stages: 0-5: Stimulating Learning

The moment your newborn enters the world, he begins to learn through the use of all his senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch). Even in the womb your baby could use these senses. He could hear sounds, move his arms and legs, blink his eyes and taste amniotic fluid.

Your baby has a lot to learn about his new world, but you can help him grow up to be a healthy and confident child by developing these abilities through play. Babies are like sponges, ready to soak up whatever we teach them. Let’s take a look at the months after birth to see how parents can help make learning fun and exciting.

Here are some recommendations to make playtime fun:
Be flexible — each day will present new challenges, so playtime today might not be playtime tomorrow.
Don’t set a scheduled time — don’t worry if you don’t have a set playtime because babies learn all day.
Don’t overdo it — babies can get overstimulated. You will learn when your baby has had enough.
Love and cherish this time together — these months will pass very quickly, so love each moment.

Your newborn can do many things already. He can turn his head from side to side in search of sounds or to eat when his cheek is stroked. He can hold your finger or small objects in a tight fist. Newborns can see objects 12 inches in front of their face and they prefer bright, bold colors or contrasting colors like black and white. Your baby can also taste the difference between sweet and sour.

Some suggestions to help your newborn develop these abilities are:
• Buy toys and mobiles that have bright colors and bold patterns. Musical toys stimulate sight and hearing.
• Touch your baby’s toes and fingers while singing nursery rhymes. This helps your baby with body awareness.
• Talk and read to your baby to help him develop communication skills.
• Let your baby lie on his back and kick. Don’t forget tummy time to help develop his neck and back muscles. Your baby might cry at first when placed on his tummy, so start slowly and build up to one to two minutes at a time.
• Purchase a baby-safe mirror. Babies love to look at themselves.
• Take your baby outside and introduce him to leaves, grass, the sun, etc. Remember, everything is new to a baby.
• Build trust by responding when your baby cries. You will soon learn what each cry means and be able to respond accordingly.

1-2 Months
As your baby approaches 1 to 2 months of age, you will see his personality begin to develop and conversation and motor skills increase. Your baby is now talking up a storm babbling and cooing. Repeat the sounds your baby makes. Talk and read to your baby, but also listen to them as they talk to you.

As you give your baby a bath, name his body parts or sing a favorite nursery rhyme. These activities are distracting and can help make bath time, diaper-changing or dressing a learning experience and more fun. Keep in mind that babies do not like surprises, so tell your baby what you are going to do before you do it.

Also at this age, your baby can lift his head while on his tummy and reach for objects. He can follow objects and people as they move around, so position yourself so your baby can see who is talking. You can play stretching games or move his legs in a bicycle motion (this also helps with gas). While your baby is lying on his back, lift his arms above his head and then help your baby give himself a hug. Your baby will also enjoy finger games like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Pat-A-Cake,” soft blocks, stuffed animals without any loose parts and musical and squeaky toys.

3-6 Months
From 3 months to 6 months of age, your baby takes a more active role in learning about his surroundings and begins to explore himself and his world. His motor skills are more defined and he can bring his hands together and reach for toys more purposefully. Your baby can splash and kick in the bath – giving you a bath, too! As he becomes more mobile, he still enjoys bright toys that he can manipulate. Keep in mind that at this age anything babies can hold they will probably try to put in their mouth.

Learning activities are easier at this age because by now you are familiar with your baby and you know what he likes and dislikes. Communication is more distinct. You know when your baby is happy, sad or scared. Be sure to listen when your baby talks; he has a lot to say about his world.

Remember, you are your baby’s best teacher. By using opportunities throughout the day to stimulate your baby, you are helping him to develop a love for learning new things and to grow into a healthy, confident child.