To find the best body and brain boosting activities for the new addition to your family, look no further than a mirror. From birth to 3 months, you are your baby's top toy and chief development officer—no fancy gadgets or gizmos required.
For newborns, motor skills, brain power and emotional attachment are all tied together—and frequent loving interactions with mom and dad are the key to continued growth. In his book, The Growth of the Mind and the Endangered Origins of Intelligence, Dr. Stanley Greenspan called this the "heart-head" connection. His research says that strong connections with caregivers are linked to language formation, logical thinking and social and emotional intelligence in infants. Emotional connections create cognitive connections.
Dr. Olson Huff, pediatrician, parenting expert and author of the, The Triumphant Child: Caring for Your Newborn, says that for newborn development, "The mother's face, her smile, her voice and her touch are the most critical elements—these are all the 'gadgets' needed. Do all the other things that give stimulation help? Maybe. But the modulation of the mother's presence, aligned with the responsiveness of the baby is the very best a new baby needs and wants."
Some of the essential elements of parent-baby interaction that aid attachment and stimulate your baby's synapses are repetition, feedback, emotional security and gentle stimulation. Add extra impact to these fundamentals as you care for your little one by including these simple activities in your daily routine:
- Mix it up. Babies don't like monotony—they need variety to create new connections in body and brain. Hold your newborn face-to-face and talk to him while changing the pitch and tone of your voice. Go from high to low tones and use a range of words. Watch your baby's face when you do this—he should be attentive but not yawning or scrunching up his face; these are common signs of over-stimulation. This activity holds your infant's attention, reinforces early language recognition and helps you bond.
- Where's mom? Your infant learned to recognize your voice before he was born. Strengthen that connection by putting your baby in a safe place, like a crib, and stepping away slightly so that he can't see you. Gently say your baby's name, or coo softly, until he moves his head towards the sound. When he does, reward him by picking him up and playing with him. This reinforces the emotional bond between you, strengthens voice recognition skills and will reassure your little one of your presence.
- Face time. Tiny tots love faces...especially yours! Making funny faces at a baby isn't just frivolous play—new infants are learning to read expressions and gain emotional intelligence through face play. Sit down with your knees high, and prop your baby up until he's comfortable, and gazing at you. Make a surprised face, flash a smile or stick out your tongue. Try exaggerated expressions at first, and then imitate his expression and create new faces for him to 'model'. Play a simple game of peek-a-boo. This contact keeps you and your little one in emotional sync through non-verbal communication, and will amuse your baby for hours.
- Hands, fingers and toes. Foster the development of fine motor skills by hanging colorful toys above your infant's crib and connecting them loosely to your baby's hand or foot with a soft ribbon. He'll soon learn that his actions cause the toys to move, creating a pleasant visual sensation. This motion develops hand-eye coördination and gives your baby a sense of empowerment. The dancing and dangling objects are also interesting to watch and will hold his interest. Stay nearby for safety's sake, and offer up words of encouragement to your little one while he plays.
- Explore the senses. Don't rush through bath time or feedings—these routine activities are essential learning experiences for your newborn. When you're ready to bathe him, take your time. Hold your infant securely and let him splash and feel the water around him. Mealtime offers learning opportunities too. Let your infant explore your breast or the bottle while feeding. This type of "sense learning" is fundamental to all facets of physical, mental and emotional development.
- Rhythm and motion. Babies naturally love music and respond well to all types of tunes, soothing songs and rhythm-making objects. Several recent research studies done by the Northwestern University Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory suggest that melodies have a positive effect on children's memory and mental skills. For the tiniest newborns, try softly singing in your own voice while walking or sitting in a rocking chair. Recorded music is fine also, but don't leave your new baby alone with endless hours of classical music. Your voice and touch are the most important elements for your little one and your presence will boost the benefit of any musical experience.
The simple things that you're doing already, such as soothing your little one to sleep, nursing, cuddling and cooing, are actually causing your baby's brain to form strong synaptic connections. Encourage all aspects of your newborn's development by enhancing your own awareness of the power of everyday activities.