This is not another article about taking the most sleep-deprived people on the planet (parents) and making them feel guilty about not being more creative and selfless with their children. And this is not about engaging with your kids 24/7. It’s about knowing what matters most to your child’s development right now to help you make informed decisions about how to focus your time with them.
As for that little person who recently joined your life? No doubt, you know what they’re telling you already. Maybe this headline made you think about the fact that your baby is already letting you know in lots of ways that they’re hungry or uncomfortable or want your warm embrace. But what else would they tell you if they could actually talk? What would they share about how they’re experiencing the world in that wild first year of life? And why is it meaningful?
1. I love to look at black and white
Babies rely mostly on their eyes for learning in the very early months. When infants are stimulated visually, the connections between their eyes and brain strengthen.
Have you noticed how your baby loves to look at dark hair against a white wall, or stares at you longer when you are wearing dark sunglasses? Your new baby is hungry to look at high contrast images because in the early months they can see black and white most clearly. What your baby can or can’t see changes rapidly in the first year. In the first month, they can see only the simplest high-contrast (black and white) images. And they should be protected from over-stimulation that makes it difficult for them to focus.
How to help: Give your baby a variety of high contrast images to look at from 0–4 months. They will be riveted! Start with simple black & white images and then when your baby looks away quickly, show them more complex images. Your baby may stare at the images for up to a few minutes at a time.
2. I’m fascinated by cause-and-effect
Neural associations are being built in your baby’s brain with each and every experience they have. The best experiences are ones that are based on real life, (rather than bells and whistles toys that don’t relate to how the world really works).
How to help: Show your baby what is in the house by taking them on a household tour over and over. Find all the places where there is water. Turn on and off all the lights. In the beginning you can do the light switch for them, later your baby can try for herself. Even just the bathroom has many things to explore (while supervised): pulling on drawer handles, turning the shower on and off, or fogging up the mirror with your mouth. Your baby will learn how objects work and what can be done with them, how processes happen in a sequence, and why it all matters.
3. I understand some things better if I put them in my mouth
Babies want to put things in their mouths so that they can learn about them. Until around 7 months old, hands and fingers aren’t as useful to a baby for exploring objects because their finger control is so limited. Babies’ mouths are home to some of the most developed senses they have during their first year of life. The “mouthing phase” usually begins around month 4 and lasts for that entire year and beyond.
How you can help: Some ideas for different safe textures for your baby to explore with their mouth include silicone teethers, infant spoons, soft books, a baby brush, a ball, ribbons. Research consistently points to unrestricted exploration being valuable to baby brain and motor development in the first year, so think about mouthing as an opportunity for your baby to learn about everyday objects, not just teething relief.
4. Talk to me
It may feel a little strange to talk to someone who doesn’t talk back to you, but it matters a lot to their development. Talking with your baby about what they’re seeing and doing each day helps build cognition and vocabulary.
“If your baby hears a ton of talk in her first three years, she’ll have a bigger vocabulary, higher IQ, and better grades than children who aren’t talked to as much” — Zero to Three
How you can help: Narrate everyday actives in your life: “I’m thirsty, let’s go get a glass of water in the kitchen. Now we are going to the kitchen. Look, here are the glasses in the cupboard. Let’s get cold water out of the refrigerator. Can you feel how cold the water is?” If your baby makes any kind of vocalization, pause and respond. Then see if they talk back to you.
Some conversation prompts:
- Tell your baby about your hopes and dreams for them.
- Describe the day your baby was born to her, talking through all the details so that she can hear more words.
- Tell your baby about your day while the two of you face each other on your tummies.
5. I’m all about concepts this year
Your baby is forming sets of associations in their brain, as well as concepts that help make sense of those associations. For example, babies are mesmerized by the ability of one object (like a hat or bag) to hide or contain another object (such as a ball). Meanwhile, your baby’s brain will start to recall objects from one appearance to the next between 6 and 9 months (a concept known as “object permanence.”) Babies just begin to understand the concepts of “same” and “different” around the 8th month, and won’t fully understand the concept of “myself” until well into their second year. Understanding concepts helps your baby build spatial understanding, memory, and the ability to think abstractly.
How you can help: Practice concepts like containment, object permanence, and “same” vs “different” with your baby. Exploring objects with your baby that can be contained, hidden, grouped, separated, or placed “above” or “below” reference points are all ways of building conceptual knowledge together while keeping things interesting.
It’s the right time for babies to learn through play.
There is no greater time of learning than the first year of life. Your baby’s brain is changing so rapidly with every new sight, sound, and experience.
We’re proud to have launched our first product at Lovevery, The Play Gym. Lovevery’s Play Gym is distilled to its simplest, purest purpose: to be exactly what babies need at each stage. We designed it to last for a baby’s entire first year and included an expert reviewed Play Guide with things you can do together using the gym in each of those first 12 months.
Lovevery helps parents feel confident they’re giving their little ones just what they want and need every step of the way. If you’d like to learn more, follow us on Facebook and Instagram. And we hope you check out The Play Gym!