From the time your baby is born, she learns from the world around her. Support her as she makes baby steps toward those big milestones by engaging in activities that enhance her cognitive, emotional and physical development. You do not need flashcards or Baby Einstein videos to support her reaching developmental milestones, just a playful attitude and some creativity with resources around the house and in the neighborhood.
Activities for Newborn to Three Months
Catch your newborn between naps with some enticing activities that stimulate hearing, vision, communication and neck strength. Holding your baby in your arms develops her ability to focus on your features. Singing to her helps her distinguish the sound of your voice and the rhythms of language.
Laura Knauer, who has a masters degree in education and is a trained instructor of Baby Sensory classes in Vancouver and Portland, recommends infant massage for sensory stimulation. She also encourages parents to try brief bits of tummy time, placing their infants on a pillow or cushioned mat to increase their comfort. Babies build their upper body, leg, core and neck strength by playing while lying on their stomachs. Knauer says parents can create visual stimulation with soft lights and objects about a foot away from [their] baby, an activity that encourages visual tracking and what is known as "eye teaming," or the eyes moving together as opposed to separately.
Activities for Four to Six Months
Babies between four to six months have quickly evolving motor skills, improved hand-eye coordination, clearer vision and fluent babbles that have the rhythms of conversation. Be a part of the conversation, modulating your tone for questions and exclamations. Use simple but descriptive language as you go through your day together. "Sign language is a wonderful tool to introduce at this age," says Knauer.
She also recommends parents do activities involving "clapping, patting [and] waving," which "encourage imitation, a skill that sets a foundation for future learning and development." A related activity is to "have baby look in the mirror and touch his nose, ears, lips—he will see it happening and feel it and eventually learn that he's looking at himself." Refine those tracking skills with bubbles, which have the added benefit of making a soft popping noise, which Knauer describes as "a great introductory sound."
Activities for Six to Nine Months
Baby is on the move during this developmental stage. Build core and limb strength by placing your baby on her tummy and placing a bright object slightly out of reach so that she needs to work to reach the toy. If she tires of that game, shift her to her back so she has a chance to grab her feet. As your baby starts mastering tasks such as tummy wiggles, limb stretches and balancing on hands and knees, Knauer advises that parents build "Tunnels and tents [to] encourage crawling and exploring."
Babbling begins to sound more like words now, so practice conversation by making eye contact and having chats. Have fun with repetitive word games like peek-a-boo.
Stimulate your baby's senses with simple objects. Knauer suggests creating a "treasure box filled with scarves and other unique textures" and a "music box that allows your little one to pull musical instruments out and put them back in, and experiment to see the different sounds that each one makes."
Activities for Nine to Twelve Months
As your baby approaches toddlerhood, she loves to express herself. Play music and join your baby in swaying along to the beat. Recite rhymes and simple songs so she can pretend to sing with you.
Your baby's cognitive ability encompasses the notion of cause and effect now. This means she enjoys exploring what happens when she interacts with a toy or an object. Build upon her curiosity by creating safe places for her to interact with her environment. Reserve a kitchen cabinet for her to open and shut that is filled with things like pots or plastic containers she can load and unload. Give her a wooden spoon and a cardboard box or a pot to create music. Play at hiding by covering yourself with a blanket and letting her remove the blanket to "find" you. Give her a simple push toy that makes a sound or interesting movement when she pushes it forward.
Fun Activities for Every Stage of Development
Some activities enhance baby's development at every age but get more complex as your baby meets emotional, social, linguistic and physical milestones. Scholastic.com suggests reading to your baby from newborn onward, and just progressing in the length and complexity of the books. Messy activities allow babies at various stages to explore their surroundings with multiple senses. Use water, sand, soap, mud and bubbles to encourage young scientists. Play games involving developmentally-appropriate manipulatives such as stacking cups and building blocks to boost your baby's awareness of spatial relationships and cause and effect. Through all of these activities in baby's first year, interacting with you and building your relationship is one of the most beneficial factors in her development.