Babies are born with a natural capacity to interact with their environment. You can nurture this ability by exposing your baby to toys and games.
For newborns, just looking around, hearing new sounds and moving their arms and legs is an exciting and exhausting endeavor. After a few weeks, though, they are demanding more stimulation. Here are ways to encourage development of the following skills.
• Catch your baby’s attention by shaking toys in her field of vision, which is initially about 8 to 12 inches in front of her eyes.
• Let your baby look up at a crib mobile or baby gym so she can follow the moving objects with her eyes.
• Show your baby patterns on books and toys. Start with simple light/dark contrasting figures and progress to more complex patterns as she gets older.
• Introduce cardboard books so she can investigate the illustrations.
Hearing and language
• Shake a rattle on either side of your baby’s head so she turns toward the noise; when she is old enough to hold it herself, let her shake away!
• Make sweet music with instruments designed for babies.
• Narrate your baby’s play by describing what she is doing with her toys.
• Hold toys in front of your baby’s face so she reaches out for them. As she gets older, place them farther and farther away to encourage more reaching and stretching.
• Toys that make sounds or buzz when they are touched give babies immediate feedback that they have been successful.
• Pull, push and rocking toys, help babies understand movement.
Social and Cognitive Skills
• Let your baby look into a baby-safe mirror.
• Play peek-a-boo or hide-and-seek with objects.
• Give your baby toys with buttons or mechanisms that teach cause and effect.
• Let your baby play with blocks, first just looking at them and eventually knocking them over and stacking them back up.
Play it Safe
When choosing toys, make safety your first priority. Avoid choking hazards (loose or small parts), sharp edges and long ribbons or strings, which could wrap tightly around a baby’s neck. Babies love to put toys in their mouths, so toys should be nontoxic.
Although your baby may be drawn to your smartphone or tablet, the effects of “learning” games and other screen time on babies’ development are not fully known, and may be harmful. Remember that your baby’s best playmate is not a screen — it’s you!
Long before toy stores, caregivers still found ways to encourage development of crucial skills. Sometimes the simplest thing — a napkin, a cereal bowl or an empty box — can make for hours of entertainment. The most important thing to appreciate is that your baby is primed and ready for you to make just about anything fun!
Pediatrician Elizabeth Shashaty, MD, is on staff at Children’s National Medical Center and Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, both in Washington, DC.