Stimulating Learning Activities for Infants
Updated: Mar 24, 2019
While my hubby and I have no goal to raise a genius, we believe it is our duty and responsibility to lay the foundation for healthy physical and intellectual growth into adolescence and adulthood. Infant-development experts believe the first years of a child's life are a prime time for learning.
During the pregnancy, I discovered that unborn child acquires the primary sensory skill of hearing, and has a remarkable memory (read more about our educational journey here). However, now, another two vital sensory skills can be integrated into the early childhood learning experience: communication, vision and touch response. Therefore, I came up with the plan for several fun activities to stimulate the physical and intellectual growth of our little bundle of joy.
If you are interested in integrating these activities to the early life of your baby, it is important to keep several things in mind:
repetition and continuity are fundamental. Experts emphasize the fact that children, especially babies, thrive in consistent and predictable environments. It seems to be essential to establish a set of pattern of events in early childhood to induce comfort, security, and confidence as the baby grows. They seem to suggest that through repetition, babies remember a logical sequence of events and feel more relaxed knowing what to expect.
baby does not have to relay understanding before the information is retained. If you want to create lasting skills in your child (like a second language), it’s imperative that their exposure and practice is constant, even they still do not understand the meaning of every word you say.
babies learn at different paces. Throw my years of teaching experience; I learned that no matter how much parents/ guardians might wish to hurry their little ones to the next stage of development, and see the results of their learning, there is not much they or anyone else can actually do to hurry up the process. More importantly, child development experts insist, it is impossible to get a child to progress to a new stage of development before he/she is ready. So, shield yourself with love, patience, and determination to be there for your child, because progress can differ by weeks or even months among kids of the same age.
Stimulating Baby's Vision
My research on early education of infants revealed the fact that at birth our little one can’t see very well as their eyesight is not fully developed (20/400 vision) so depth perception and color vision can take months to fully mature. While their vision is fuzzy, and babies respond to and focus on bright visual objects, exciting and dramatic patterns, as well as human faces up close about 20 – 40 cm (approx. 8 – 16 inches) away. Therefore, there are several activities we can do engage their developing sense of sight and stimulate their not only physical but also intellectual growth:
making eye contact. It is an essential yet straightforward activity of taking advantage of those brief moments when his/her eyes are open. It requires no special equipment or preparation. As I mentioned earlier, infants recognize faces early on, so without a doubt, my hubby’s and mine are the most important. Also, looking into someone's eyes is a necessity for "falling in love" and forming a close and warm relationship. Therefore, each time she/ he stares at you, look back into her/ his eyes, at those moments she/ he is building the memory and bond that would last for years to come.
the imitation game. Some experts suggest that newborns young as two days old can imitate simple facial movements, which is considered as a sign of very early problem-solving. Some scientists insist that infants aren't born with the ability to copy what other people do, but they acquire that skill during the first months of life. No matter who is right, this game is important for physical and intellectual development. Imitation is a key part of the way humans learn. We can pick up new skills by observing others and so do newborns such as learning to discriminate between different emotional facial expressions, like happy, sad and surprised faces. So, make those silly faces, stick your tongue out, etc. to engage your kiddo and call for her/ his response. It's an important sign of higher mental function. It means the baby can differentiate between herself/himself and the environment, and just like that the socialization has also begun.
playing with mirrors. Mirrors are a great way to help babies explore. Have the baby stare at herself/himself in the mirror. The infant may think she/ he is looking at another cute kid, but soon she/ he will love making the "other" baby wave his arms and smile, or even try to reach out to touch the “baby” in the mirror. A mirror is also a great way to extend the imitation game to practice visual tracking. Making silly faces at the baby in the mirror and see if she/ he imitates you or makes a different face back. Also, if you do not have one, I would strongly suggest to hang a mirror on the wall. While holding the baby, tap the mirror and say baby’s name. Over time baby begins to understand who the baby in the mirror is.
finding a difference in stimulation cards. Hold up two illustrations about 20 – 40 cm (approx. 8 – 16 inches) away from the baby's face. The pictures should be similar but have one small difference (perhaps a tree is in one but not the other). Even a young infant will look back and forth and try to figure out the distinguishing features, which sets the stage for letter recognition and reading later on. If you are interested in trying this activity, consider several resources that I made for my little girl. Follow us on our social media channels (Facebook and Instagram) to stay updated with our personal experiences.
Stimulating Baby's Touch Response
The other essential skill that can be integrated into early childhood learning is the stimulating activities for developing touch response.
Touch is one of the key senses in a baby’s physical and intellectual growth, esp. in the early weeks. It also plays a vital role in helping you both bond. Furthermore, it helps your baby communicate her/his needs and wishes, interact with other people and learn to explore his/ her environment.
The touch response with the newborn also becomes an important factor in an infant’s development as the baby’s vision improves. Until birth, touch response has been restricted, but now the baby starts enjoying the added stimulation of being touched, caressed, tickled or simply being held while hearing your loving voice, and seeing your caring face. Take a look below at several simple activities that would help you stimulate the baby’s touch response daily.
holding textures, shapes, and sizes. Touch is one of the best-developed senses at birth. Newborn is able to distinguish among different temperatures, textures, shapes, and even weights of objects right away. Provide colorful (preferably in high contrast colors such as black, white, and red) objects of different textures, shapes, and sizes for your infant to hold and explore. And yes, babies explore through touch, and their preferred tool is often their mouth. So don't worry if she/he sucks or chews on anything she/he can get his hands on. Just make sure you give him things that are safe and clean. Also, this activity must be highly supervised, so do not leave her/ him alone. Even though the newborn is still not able to pick things up for herself/himself, but the baby enjoys having things placed in hand. So, be there for your newborn.
skin-to-skin contact. A simple act as holding the baby can be really therapeutic for a newborn, experts say. So, hold her/ him often and sings songs to help enhance baby’s not only baby's touch response but also his/ her listening skills. Babies are born with highly sensitive skin. Some of the areas of their bodies are particularly sensitive to touch such as the faces (mouths, cheeks), hands, abdomen and the soles of the feet. Therefore, it is an excellent way to connect and make the process of changing diaper playful and pleasant experience for both of you. During the diaper time, touch the different parts of the body and say “beep,” and see how she/ he wiggles, reacts to touch and voices. Baby may begin focusing on your hand and start watching it to anticipate your touch. So, do not be shy and even encourage plenty of skin-to-skin contact between you as well as your partner and his/her sibling(s). It is a vital part of bonding and communication, as well as being comforted by the feel of the touch. The newborn is able to respond to touch with grasping reflex, so if you stroke his/her palm, the newborn can grip on it. Interestingly, most infant’s reflexes disappear as he/she gets older.
a blowing surprise. Now and then, delight your baby by gently blowing on her face, arms, or tummy. It’s another great yet brief activity for diaper time. When gently blowing, make a pattern out of your breaths, and watch her/him react and anticipate. Even the most straightforward movement and sensory experiences like that help infants learn the extent of their own bodies.
Stimulating Social Skills
All in all, playing is the key to how infants learn to move, communicate, socialize, and understand their surroundings. Moreover, during the first month of their life, babies learn by interacting with parents/ guardians and their closest relatives. In addition to the activities listed above, there are simple acts that would also help your baby’s social skills, that we all use to communicate and interact with each other, both verbally and non-verbally. Like any skill, young children develop these abilities in small steps over time. Look below at the other activities that would help you build the foundation for your baby’s future.
high-pitched sounds. Speaking in a high-pitched or sing-song voice helps to grasps the baby’s attention while you are talking to her/ him. It might look silly, but it is essential to describe your actions as you dress, feed, and bathe the baby. Even talking about where you’re going and what you’re doing stimulates the physical and intellectual growth.
face time. Make time for “face time”! And, no, I am not talking about a video chat application developed by Apple. Leave the apps for the inevitable future. At this point, it’s about giving your baby regular face-to-face time with you. It means taking the time to smile at your baby’s face and to return a smile whenever she/her smiles. Moreover, when the baby gets older, you can even show pictures of family and friends and point out their smiling faces.
learning body parts. Hold up a doll or stuffed animal and point out a body part and name it aloud and then point the same part on the baby and name it in a different pitch of the voice. Does your partner speak a foreign language? Great! This activity can be used when you are raising a multilingual child. Using the One Person, One Language (OPOL) method, where each parent consistently during this activity speaks a different language. In our case, I speak English, and my hubby would speak Spanish to our little bundle of joy. I will share about our multilingual experiences in my future posts. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram to stay updated.
No matter if you integrate these listed or other out there activities in your daily life, it is important to keep in mind, that no matter what we do, infants are happier and healthier when they feel safe and connected. The way we relate to our babies affects the many new connections that are forming in the baby’s brain. These early brain connections are the foundation for learning, behavior and health. Early, caring relationships prepare your baby’s brain for the future, stimulates healthy physical and intellectual growth. While it may seem that newborns spend the majority of their time sleeping, pooping or being in a drowsy state, it will change as the infant grows. The times, when she/ he is active or alert, become more frequent and for more extended periods. Therefore, consider the activities, listed below, but do not rush or push. Just as we set the feeding, bath, sleeping schedule/ routines, let the baby set the learning schedule. Therefore, it's important to recognize when the baby is alert and ready to learn and play and when your little one would rather be left alone:
A baby who is quiet and alert will be attentive and responsive and interested in surroundings.
A baby who is awake but active (squirming, flapping arms, or kicking legs) or fussing will be less able to focus on you. The baby may seem agitated or start to cry when you try to get his or her attention. These are signs that your baby may be getting overstimulated.
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