The brain is a wonderous thing. Held within this organ (which is roughly one kilogram by the time a baby turns one) is the very essence of what makes us human.
More than mere grey matter, it’s the control panel of our behaviour, the home of our intelligence and the base for all our senses. From the second we open our eyes for the first time, it continues to develop with each passing moment.
The first months of your baby’s life are a magic window, especially when it comes to development. Over the first twelve months, your child’s brain will double in size, according to research from the Journal of Neuroscience.
It’s at this time the brain's ability to change (AKA neuroplasticity) is at its most rapid - while the effort needed to make those changes is at its lowest. Because of this, child development specialists focus on the early years as a time of rich potential in shaping a child's later life outcomes.
So, how can you help your baby’s brain reach its full potential?
Playing simple games with your little one is an easy and effective way to support their development. The more you interact with your child in these golden months, the better you can help their brain grow. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what to play during the first six months.
1. Dance Party
Time for a quick dance break? Babies love a beat! Every parent knows that the moment you put a high-tempo song on, your baby will start moving. Not only is this a fun hobby for your child, but it can also help them build a lasting bond with you. Believe it or not, research from McMaster University suggests that moving in sync with your child to music strengthens social attachments and also improves their altruistic behaviour.
Get started: Put on one of your favourite songs. Hold your baby close to your chest and move together in time with the music. Smile and look at your child and react to their movements and expressions. If they're a little older, hold them under their arms and lift them up and down to the music, and dance!
2. Rattle Away
Movement and play are so important when it comes to your child’s early development. When your child passes the four-month mark, you can start playing with rattles with them. Teaching your little one how to make noise with this low-budget instrument is a smart way to boost their brain power. Plus, they will gain an early understanding of how to make noises and, you never know, maybe even hold a beat or two.
Get started: While you can get store-bought rattles, you might want to make your own. Find a sealable container and fill it with dried lentils or rice. Make sure that the container is completely sealed before using it as a rattle! Sit with your baby and show them how it works by moving the toy and making a sound. Watch as their face lights up with joy!
We learn by doing and, put simply, copying! When a baby sees an adult perform a task with different parts of their body, their brain shows activation in specific areas, according to research from the University of Washington. The study suggests that young children learn by observing others and imitating that behaviour. So, if you want to help your baby gain new skills, one of the most effective games you can play with them is copycats.
Get started: Sit face-to-face with your child and make sure you’re comfortable. Start out with some simple actions that your little one can copy. For example, you may want to start by clapping your hands. Watch to see whether your baby does the same thing. If they don’t copy you right away, try switching things up and trying a new movement.
4. Track the ToyNeedless to say, your baby’s visual development is happening each day. One of the ways that you can give your child a boost is by encouraging them to track. That simply means following things with their eyes as they move in front of them. While your little one will naturally start to do this throughout the day, there’s a fun little game you can play too.
Get started: Start by using any toy that your little one loves. When your baby is having tummy time, sit in front of them and start moving the toy around slowly. For example, if they have a small bear, pretend the bear is walking across the carpet. Watch to see if your baby follows the toy with their eyes as it moves. You might want to move the toy right up close to their face to get their attention when you first begin playing.
5. Ribbon Grabbing
Let’s face it, children love to touch and, as they get older, grab things. That’s great since it helps them with sensory development and hand-eye coordination. The more they practice these essential skills, the faster they will understand them. The next time that you have some down-time with your baby, you can try a simple game to help them get started.
Get started: Fill a basket or shallow container with some ribbons. Sit with your baby on your lap and prop the container in front of you. Show your baby how to grab the ribbons and move them around the container. Make sure that they are in a position where they can reach and touch them for themselves. After a while, you might notice that your baby starts to touch the ribbons and tries to move them around too. Keep going and watch them play!
It's time to play!
Now that you’ve got some inspiration, why not set up some fun challenges today? Taking the time to help your little one develop is a savvy way to stimulate their brain development. Try a different play idea whenever you feel like, and be sure to make up your own.
For extra play and development ideas, download the EasyPeasy parenting app and enter your child's age to get started!
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The EasyPeasy parenting app is designed for parents of 0-5 year olds. It's full of tips and support to help you through breastfeeding, nappy changes and more. And aside from practical advice, there are loads of fun, playful little games to make you and your baby smile.