Guest Blog by Dr Lin Day, Baby Sensory
The first year of a baby’s life is such an exciting time. You will see them change and develop at an alarming rate – with so many milestones whizzing by! Their brain will double in volume, as a direct result of learning from birth – there’s no other time like it in the human lifecycle.
Play is an important factor during these crucial months, laying the foundations for your baby’s future development. Parents can help their baby develop confidence, speech and strength through sensory play (read about the myriad of benefits in my blog: Exploring the world through sensory play), but they’re not the only benefits - sensory play is fun! And having lots of fun is good for parents and babies – helping them to form a wonderful, lasting bond.
Surely playing with your baby is a natural thing and no advice is needed? Not necessarily so. Many parents feel uninspired when it comes to play or are worried that they’ll do too much or too little. So here are my top tips to bring the magic of sensory play into your everyday routine.
You and your baby
Parents may worry if they are unable to spend every waking moment playing with their baby. However, the best opportunities for play often occur during routine activities such as feeding, nappy changing, dressing, having a bath or preparing for bedtime. The play doesn’t have to be elaborate, as it’s often the simplest play that is the most effective. The simplest form of play involves plenty of eye contact, facial expressions, vocalisations, smiles and words of encouragement.
All babies benefit from enriched adult involvement. However, they still need time for unstructured play. Provide them with a safe environment and stimulating toys / objects and just observe them as they explore freely. Parents should support the play, but not direct it or take over. True free-play is initiated by the baby, whereas too much adult intervention can limit imagination, exploration and problem-solving skills.
A sensory environment rich in sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures promotes rapid brain growth, increases the capacity for intellectual development, and forms the foundation for all future learning.
Here are some ideas for creating sensory experiences at home:
• A treasure basket filled with interesting objects such as paper cups and plates, a sock with a ball in the toe, a soft brush, reflective paper or a shiny box.
• A cardboard box filled with different fabrics.
• Bubbles that can be blown in the bath or garden.
• A bowl of water with cups for filling and pouring.
• Messy play with jelly and cooked spaghetti!
The process of play is far more important than toys. However, toys are usually the main objects that babies play with because they have the advantage of being safe and specially adapted to their age and abilities.
Toys that capture attention and provide endless entertainment include rattles and sound toys, plastic tea sets and play food, books with brightly coloured pictures and a toy telephone. Toys that help develop crucial skills such as problem-solving and perseverance include large plastic bricks, balls, nesting cups and stackers. Toys that develop fine motor skills include puzzles and crayons. Toys that develop large motor skills include push-along or ride-on toys.
Puppets and peek-a-boo games are fun ways to interact with babies and they reinforce the concept that an object or person does not disappear when hidden from view. Babies also benefit emotionally from direct eye contact and face-to-face interactions with their parents.
Movement & balance
Movement activities such as rocking, swaying and bouncing enhance posture, balance, coordination, and spatial awareness, and encourage parents to interact and connect more deeply with their baby in a fun way.
• Sit baby on your knee, sing ‘row, row, row your boat’ while gently rocking back and forth with lots of smiles and eye contact.
• Bounce baby gently on your knee while singing and laughing.
• Allow baby to explore freely in a safe environment. Pull the duvet and pillows off the bed to encourage exploration and mobility on the floor.
• Encourage baby to move towards toys just out of reach to encourage crawling.
Songs & rhymes
Rhymes and songs provide a powerful stimulus, particularly in terms of language development. They help babies learn new words, develop listening skills, recognise differences in pitch, melody and repeated sound patterns, and identify the different rhythms, stresses and intonations of language. Singing is a musical way of speaking and babies just love it. Songs and rhymes do more than entertain; they enhance the parent-baby bond and they improve socialisation skills. Repetition of activities and songs strengthens neural connections in the baby’s brain, so that they become more specialised in function.
My top 5 song suggestions:
1. Row, row, row your boat
2. 5 speckled frogs
3. 5 little monkeys
4. Incy wincy spider
5. Dingle, dangle scarecrow
Music in all its forms contributes emotionally, cognitively, and physically to the learning and development of the baby. For example, songs and rhymes develop language skills; listening to music heightens auditory awareness; moving to music releases stress and tension; shaking a rattle or beating a drum encourages babies to practise essential hand movements.
All babies benefit from musical activities, which promote total brain development, increase auditory discrimination, reduce stress and frustration, and help them to make sense of the world.
• Play your favourite songs (not too loud!) and encourage baby to sway, bounce and jig to the music.
• Help baby shake a rattle to the beat or clap your hands together.
• Create actions that baby can copy – raise your arms in the air, wave or shake your hands – you’ll be amazed when baby mimics you!
Books are one of the best toys and it is never too early to introduce them. Reading a story or talking about the pictures encourages parents to use expressive language which gives babies a flying start in the development of speech and language. Cuddling up and reading a book is a wonderful experience for a baby, no matter how young they are. It is also a super way for you to bond with your baby.