Playing With Baby
By: Rae Pica
Babies need to move in order to learn! Following are several activities – all of which promote motor and cognitive development and deepen the bond between baby and you.
Rolling Over. You can encourage rolling over by providing a little incentive. While the baby is lying on his back, sit behind him, holding a small toy over his head. Once you have the baby's attention, move the toy very slowly to one side, all the while encouraging him to get it. If the baby rolls over, present him with the toy. You can then repeat the game on the other side.
Visual Tracking. Provide your baby with bright, colorful objects to watch. Finger puppets or a brightly colored sock placed on your hand can be used to gain and keep the baby's attention. Then slowly move your hand up and down, in circles, and to the right and left. Blow bubbles for the baby to watch. When the baby's old enough, encourage her to reach for the bubbles – or any other object of desire you place above her.
Body Awareness. Body awareness is essential for babies. Sing and demonstrate "Where Is Thumbkin?" Play games like "This Little Piggy" with both toes and fingers. Touch her nose, exclaiming, "I've got your nose!" Then proceed to play the game with such other body parts as toes, ears, fingers, and legs. When the baby's developmentally ready, ask her to find your nose, ears, mouth, etc.
Individuation. There's nothing like the game of Peek-a-Boo to help the child begin to see himself as a separate individual. It also makes babies laugh! Once the baby is familiar with this game, you can move on to "Where's Mommy (Daddy; Nana; etc.)?" Begin by placing your hands over your face, just as you would with Peek-a- Boo. Later, hide your whole self behind a piece of furniture, asking, "Where's Mommy?" You then pop up, answering, "Here's Mommy!"
Crossing the Midline. To encourage crossing the midline of the body, hand your baby desirable items in such a way that she has to reach across her body to retrieve them from you. Later, when the baby is crawling and creeping, place a brightly colored object or favorite toy on the floor, just out of reach, encouraging her to go get it. Then, as long as she seems to enjoy the game (she's laughing instead of fussing), keep moving it!
Eye-Hand Coordination. Any activity in which the baby is reaching for or batting an object promotes eye-hand coordination. Another option, appropriate for infants as young as three months, is to sew a bell or bells onto an elastic band that you can slip on your baby's wrists or ankles. Once on, gently shake the body part until the baby looks at it.
Also, when your baby is able to sit unassisted, make him comfortable on the floor, legs apart. Sit opposite him in a similar manner and roll a large, brightly colored ball toward him. Describe what you're doing, and encourage him to push it back toward you.
Manipulative Skills. To provide opportunities for kicking, place a stuffed animal or a small pillow by your baby's feet, close enough to touch, and encourage her to kick away. Give her plenty of soft objects to throw as well, retrieving them for her as long as she stays interested. Once she's walking, you can place an empty laundry basket on the floor and suggest she toss soft balls, rolled- up socks, or similar items into the basket.
Imitation. Babies are great at mimicking, and at about 10 months of age they have a greater understanding of what they're doing and really enjoy it. Play the Mirror Game with your baby while sitting and facing each other. Stick out your tongue, wiggle your fingers in your ears, wave your arms up and down, all while encouraging the baby to do likewise. When your baby is ready to figure out how the game is played, encourage him to lead, while you imitate.
Later, when your baby is mobile, Follow the Leader is a wonderful game to play. It will encourage imitation while also providing practice with walking.
Rae Pica is a children's physical activity specialist and the author of Your Active Child: How to Boost Physical, Emotional, and Cognitive Development through Age-Appropriate Activity (McGraw-Hill, 2003). Rae speaks to parent and education groups throughout North America. Visit her and read more articles at http://www.movingandlearning.com/.