Building Baby’s Brain
In the first years of life, the brain is busy building its wiring system. Activity in the brain creates tiny electrical connections called synapses. The amount of stimulation babies receive has a direct effect on how many synapses are formed. Repetitive stimulation strengthens these connections and makes them permanent; connections that don’t get used eventually die out.
Smart babies don’t need expensive toys. Roll a ball to a baby to develop his muscle coordination. Sing songs and talk to your baby to develop his language abilities. Create patterns with cereal boxes or blocks to develop his math skills.
Below are some exercises to help boost your baby’s brainpower throughout the first year of development:
Birth to 3 Months
Bumblebee, Bumblebee. Babies this age may like when people or objects touch their skin. Play a game of “Bumblebee, Bumblebee.” This is a good game to play at diaper-changing time. Take your index finger and make a circle in the air. Come closer and closer to your baby as you say, “Bumblebee, bumblebee, straight from the farm – buzz, buzz, buzz, under your arm.” Make a buzzing sound and nuzzle your baby under the arm.
I can do it, too! Babies love to mimic your facial expressions. With both of your hands supporting your baby’s back and head, bring your face about 10 inches from his eyes. Blink your eyes. Repeat several times, pausing each time. Notice if he blinks his eyes. Try sticking out your tongue and see if he will copy you. The mirroring in this game develops your baby’s self-awareness.
Look at the light. As your baby grows older, she may become more aware of her environment. Sit on a comfortable chair in a dark room with your baby in your lap. Shine a flashlight on the wall to get your baby’s attention. Then say some thing like, “Look at the pretty light.” As you say the words, slowly move the flashlight up and down so the light moves. As you move the flashlight around, let it stop on familiar objects. If it’s a table, say, “There’s a table.” Continue shining the light on other objects in the room until your baby grows tired of the game.
This is what I am going to do. Because some babies this age already can respond to verbal cues, begin telling your baby what you are going to do before you do it. For example, say, “I’m going to pick you up,” then hold out your arms. Or say, “I’m going to kiss you,” and then pucker up your lips. Soon, she will begin to understand the language, and you will only have to say one or two words for her to respond by imitating your actions or facial expressions.
Find the toy. This age is a good time to introduce the concept of object permanence to your baby. Hold up one of his favorite toys. Say the name of the toy and put it down. Hold it up again and say, “I am putting it behind me.” Be sure your baby is watching you as you put the toy behind you. Ask him, “Where is the (name of toy)?” If he knows the answer, by pointing to you or moving to where the toy is, praise him enthusiastically. Play this again, but this time put the toy behind your baby’s back and see if he can figure out where it is. The final developmental state of this game is for your baby to put the toy behind his back himself.
When he can do this, he understands the concept.
Fun with balls. Balls come in a variety of sizes, shapes, colors and textures, and babies are fascinated by these round objects. Gather a variety of child-safe balls in one basket or box. Dump them out. Sign “ball” (bring hands together to form the shape of a ball with curved fingers) as you hand each ball to your child. Ask him to put the ball in the container. Use an animated and playful expression as you hand him each ball and make the sign for the word “ball.” When all the balls are in the container, dump them out again and repeat the game until your child is ready to stop your ball game.
Time For Soup. By 9 months, your baby has experienced an explosion in physical, social emotional and intellectual development. She also may begin experimenting with pretend play. Try out a game of “Time for Soup,” to engage her imaginative play and fine motor skills. Give your baby a plastic bowl and tell her that you are going to make some soup. Name some vegetables that are familiar to her, such as carrots, potatoes, and green beans and pretend to put them in the soup. Give her a spoon to stir the soup. When it is “cooked,” pretend to eat the soup using the spoon.
Push the stroller. Once she begins “cruising,” let her practice walking while holding onto a stroller. Help her push the stroller and then stop, repeating these actions once more. As you push and stop, say “I walk, walk, walk, and then I stop.” Repeat several times. Your baby will enjoy this, and she gets a chance to practice walking at the same time.
Too Tired to Play?
Playing with a baby is a delightful experience. Babies smile, they giggle and coo, their eyes are wide open with interest. However, too much stimulation can overload a baby’s neural circuits, leaving her crying or unsettled. This is your baby’s way of saying, “I’ve had enough.”
Signs that playtime or interactions are overwhelming your baby include when your baby closes her eyes, turns away, tenses up and arches her back, avoids your gaze, or begins to get irritable.
Jackie Silberg is the author of 15 books with Gryphon House, including “Games to Play with Babies” and “125 Brain Games for Babies.”