“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” – Diane Ackerman.
If you thought playtime and learning cannot go hand in hand, think again! With learning no longer limited to just books and the classroom, everyday interactions can provide parents numerous opportunities for playful learning.
The first few years of a child’s life are most critical for their development.
A baby’s brain is like a sponge, soaking up all the experiences it is exposed to, and forming numerous neural connections between stimuli through observation.
Providing enriching activities at this stage can work wonders in boosting brain development, and builds a strong foundation for skills needed in school and beyond.
During the first year, infants are largely dependent on parents and caregivers for everything, be it nutrition, bath, naps and even playtime.
Use this time to incorporate activities that your little one will enjoy, and master key physical (gross and fine motor skills), cognitive (logic and problem solving), social and emotional (interaction with others and feelings), and communication (speech, language and non-verbal) skills to reach developmental milestones.
Here are a few brain developmental activities for infants that can be done without any fancy equipment or preparation, and promise lots of smiles and fun.
10 Simple Play Activities For Infant Development
Simply cover your face with your hands, and remove them while saying ‘Peekaboo’, and watch your baby’s face light up with a smile! After a couple of times, they may even try removing your hands on their own. Now switch places and cover their face with a light scarf that they can uncover on their own.
As a variation, hide a few favorite toys under a cloth and let your baby try and uncover them.
Babies love the element of surprise, and this simple game of peekaboo introduces the concept of object permanence and is the first step to learning problem solving skills.
Reflective surfaces hold so much wonder for a child.
Use safe, unbreakable mirrors through which your infant can discover and explore themselves.
Allow your baby to look into the mirror and try and touch their own image.
Touch the baby’s nose, eyes or hair, naming each body part as you do so.
Move the baby away from the mirror and bring them back, so they can see themselves again. This is a great tool for building self-awareness, personal-social skills, cognitive development and expanding vocabulary.
Bath Time Fun
Bath time can provide a lot of sensory experiences through water, foam and bubbles.
Babies have a natural ability to swim so splashing about in the water freestyle helps develop leg and arm muscles.
Make soap bubbles for your little one to catch or swirl their fingers to create waves.
Give your baby small plastic containers to scoop and pour water from one to another, or feel different temperatures.
Water play encourages not just physical development but also helps hone thinking and reasoning abilities.
It is relaxing and also helps to focus and concentrate. Make sure bath time activities are always closely supervised.
Kicking helps babies develop strong core muscles in the abdomen and legs key to gross motor development like crawling and standing.
Allow your child to kick against your torso as you sit close to them.
Place a colorful ball or some toys nearby that your little footballer can kick in different directions. This can be done lying on the back or during tummy time as well.
Tummy time promotes bonding and helps develop core muscles in the neck and head essential for key development milestones like holding up the head and rolling over.
Begin with simple exercises for short durations a couple of times a day by placing the baby on their belly.
To make it fun and interesting, keep a few toys nearby that your baby can stretch to grasp and build hand-eye coordination as well.
Moving your baby up and down or in different directions gently also gives a sense of spatial awareness.
Babies learn a lot by imitating.
You can use this to teach gestures or signs for specific things, like touching the belly when hungry of shaking the head to refuse something.
This allows infants to express their feelings even before they learn to talk.
Your baby may even try and mimic funny sounds or facial expressions that you may make and react differently to each.
This form of early communication helps you to bond and is the bedrock for linguistic skill development.
Even though babies cannot speak words for a while, listening to correct speech is the first step in linguistic development.
Use words to name and describe activities throughout the day.
Point out colors and food, name body parts during a bath or describe your actions as you fold clothes or move around the room.
This allows infants to connect words with objects and build vocabulary.
Infants love feeling different textures against the skin. This helps build tactile ability through the sense of touch.
Let your baby feel different fabrics as you sort laundry or run their fingers through a plate of uncooked rice or beans.
These also help develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
Run the soles of your baby’s feet over wood, stone, or a mattress and use descriptive words like smooth or rough to introduce new words as well.
You can even make a texture board by pasting pieces of sponge, sandpaper, wool, buttons, felt and dried leaves for little fingers to explore.
It is never too early to introduce your baby to the world of books.
For infants, high contrast picture books help visual development and focus.
Books with flaps that reveal something are very exciting.
Make up an exciting story while reading the book and introduce sounds, new words and spark imagination and creativity.
Building blocks and nesting bowls can keep a child happily engaged for hours!
Picking and stacking blocks or even empty boxes or books helps develop concentration, focus and hand-eye coordination.
Putting bowls in different sizes into one another or sorting objects by shape of color encourages problem solving and logical thinking.
Play Is Necessary For Infant Development
Playtime is the best part of childhood, and finding ways to make it an enriching experience can reap rich results.
Invest time into guiding your little one to learn while they play, and watch with pride as your infant takes his first steps towards becoming an active toddler brimming with energy.
Author Bio: Natasha Mathew is part of the content development team at KinderPass, and creates content to empower parents so that they can actively contribute to the development of their 0-5-year-olds. As a mother of two, Natasha writes from her experiences, struggles, and learnings as a parent. In her free time, you can find her doing meal-prep and cooking healthy meals with her kids. She is also an art & craft ninja and an origami fanatic.