How to Play With Your Baby: 0-6 Months
June 6, 2022
Bringing your baby home from the hospital is a long-anticipated moment because it gives you the opportunity to finally have some quiet bonding time together. However, the moment you step through your front door, you may feel an overwhelming sense of “Well, now what?” The time you spend in the hospital feels so hectic, you don’t really think of what you’re supposed to do once you’re alone. After a few days of being hooked up to monitors, with nurses coming in and out of your room every 5 minutes, being home alone feels so alone. Well, this is a special time where you get to really bond with your baby through caring for them and playing with them! While taking care of your baby’s needs, like making sure they’re fed and their diapers are changed frequently, builds that bond too, play is essential for their development. In those first few months, play might feel one-sided (after all, newborns don’t appear to do much), but inside their brain, they’re rapidly learning about the world around them and how to interact with it. By the time your little one is 6 months old, they’ll start to feel like a little human who can express their likes and dislikes, start eating real food, respond to their name, sit up, roll over, and “converse” with you through sounds. But, it takes a lot of development to get to that point, so in those first 6 months, these are some ways you can play effectively with your baby!
BE CONSISTENT WITH TUMMY TIME
Ah, tummy time. You just can’t seem to escape it, can you? It might not seem like the most fun way to play with your baby, especially when said baby is doing more crying than playing, but we promise there are ways to make it more bearable! Here’s a tip: babies love mirrors. Not only do they love mirrors, but mirrors are also great for their cognitive development! That’s a huge win for everyone, and you’ll find that introducing a mirror during tummy time can extend their tolerance for the activity. Set up your play mat, put your baby tummy-side down, and bring over a tummy time mirror that stands up, so they can interact with it.Babies love faces, and seeing their own reflection in that shiny surface sparks their curiosity and motivates them to keep their head up longer. When they watch the reflection of moving things, it strengthens their visual tracking skills, and also supports their fine motor and gross motor skills by inspiring them to reach, point, roll, or crawl toward the mirror. Read our blog post here for more ways to make tummy time easier for you and your little one.
USE THE BABY BOUNCER
It should be noted that baby bouncers are only suitable for a short period of time each day. It’s tempting to leave your baby in their bouncer because it seems like a safe space for them to snooze, but the tilted angle puts them at risk of positional asphyxia. Even if your baby seems to fall asleep easier in their bouncer than in their bassinet or crib, they should always be placed on their back to sleep on a flat, firm surface. Additionally, leaving your little one in a bouncer too long can create flat spots on their head.
Now, when the bouncer is used properly, it becomes a great tool for playing with your baby! Babies love the bouncy movement, and they’ll quickly discover that they can bounce themselves by kicking their feet or moving their bodies. It’s not only highly entertaining for them, it’s one of the ways they learn cause and effect. Additionally, the bar with colorful, spinning toys on the bouncer motivates your little one to practice reaching and grabbing. You can spin the toys to show them how it works, and also move their legs to demonstrate how the bouncer works.
You know that old trope that playing Mozart for babies makes them smarter? Well, it’s true, but it doesn’t have to be Mozart. Scientists at the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) found that play sessions with music improved 9-month old babies’ brain processing of both music and new speech sounds. Similarly to music, language has strong rhythmic patterns. The study suggested that babies who experience rhythmic patterns in music have an improved ability to detect and make predictions about rhythmic patterns in speech, which helps them learn to speak. So, by playing or singing children’s songs, your favorite songs, or classical music, you’re helping your baby make complex brain connections and improve their cognitive skills. Music learning supports all learning, and it’s incredibly fun for both you and your little one!
USE WATER FOR SENSORY PLAY
Okay, this is another disclaimer and it’s an important one. Kids love playing with water, and it’s likely that your baby will be a huge fan too. However, young children can drown in less than 2 inches of water, and drowning is often silent. If you are playing with your little one in a tub, kiddie pool, or even a smaller container of water, you must be actively supervising them. That means, no distractions on your phone or having a conversation with someone and not watching your baby play.
That being said, water creates a fun, interactive sensory experience for your baby that is also great for their learning. Once your little one is able to push their chest off the floor, you can pour some water onto a shallow surface, such as a baking sheet pan, and put some toys in it. Put their arms in the sheet pan, so they can explore the water and see how it splashes and moves. It’s an easy, fun way to keep them entertained and introduce them to sensory play!
READ THEM BOOKS
There’s no doubt that reading is incredibly beneficial for children. However, when your baby is only 0-6 months, you may think that they’re too young to reap the benefits of reading. Think again! Experts recommend that you introduce books at the same time you introduce toys, i.e. from birth. Studies have shown that children who were read to as newborns developed a larger vocabulary than their peers. When they’re this young, your baby obviously won’t be doing any actual reading themselves, but introducing books is a great way to boost their language development. Not only is there a direct link between how many words a baby hears every day and their language skills, reading a book to your baby every day can expose them to over 75,000 words every year.
That’s not to say that you should be reading novels to your baby at this time (although, you certainly still can!). Reading books that are age-appropriate is a fantastic way to get them naturally interested in books from a young age. Since your baby doesn’t develop color vision until they’re a few months old, black-and-white picture books have the perfect contrast to grab their attention. You can introduce these high-contrast books that are so visually pleasing, as well as board books with easy words they’ll start to incorporate in their vocabulary as they grow. Even if they don’t yet understand the words you’re saying, it stimulates their cognitive development and boosts their brain power, which benefits them over their lifetime!
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