0 - 3 Months
Infants and toddlers are holistic learners, which means that although one activity may primarily target one developmental area, all domains are “at play.” When you are targeting motor development, your presence and connection with your baby also inevitably target social/emotional development, your words develop your child’s communication, and the concepts you discuss and problem-solving your baby is doing develop cognition. The more you interact with your baby, the more your baby learns!
These activities are all meant to be interactive, and should be supervised by a fully present adult.
+ Stay in Tune With Baby
Even very young infants demonstrate preferences, as seen through their facial expressions, gaze, sounds, and movements. When you pay close attention to your baby's actions, you show him that you are trying to be attuned to his needs!
When you respect your child’s initiative, you demonstrate to him that his behavior has an effect on you and on his environment. This is a wonderful example of how, over time, your baby will learn about cause and effect.
If your baby cries, turns away, or grimaces to show he is upset or finished with an activity, change the activity and/or the environment. If this is impossible to do in the immediate term, talk to him and tell him why, and that you hear his desire to do something else.
If your baby wiggles his arms and/or legs, watches intently, or vocalizes "happily," keep doing what you're doing! Stay focused on him for a few minutes longer, and try not to be disrupted by technology or other outside forces!
+ Listen to Music
￼Exposing your baby to music allows him to hear different kinds of patterns. Provide opportunities for your baby to enjoy lots of different kinds of music, both recorded and live (including you!)
Get down on your baby’s level, laying down, or with your face just over his body. Look into your baby’s eyes. Hum, sing on “ba” or sing the words - your baby is listening to the melodic patterns, watching your mouth, and listening to your voice.
When choosing the music, think about: musical genre (Classical, Soul, Pop, Reggae, etc.), instruments (a whole symphony, a violin, only a human voice/voices, etc.), musical origin (is the song or artist from Western or Eastern culture?) - this may influence the tonality and/or the rhythm!
Play recorded music, but sing yourself, as well! It doesn't matter if you can "carry a tune" - your baby will not judge your singing voice at this age. Your baby will benefit from the time he gets to focus on your mouth, your face, and the sounds coming out of your mouth!
+ Read and Classify
Classification (putting "like" things together) is a cognitive skill, and you can introduce activities or organize objects that are "themed" from very early on in your baby's life. Your baby will enjoy spending time with you and listening to your voice, and will benefit from exposure to these organized activities by listening to the words you use.
Though this organization into categories is partially for the caregiver (it's nice to have a way to think about how to "present" activities for your baby!), research shows that babies as young as 3 months old start to show visual preference for basic categories of items they have seen before. This indicates that they are "storing" information about what they see from a very, very young age!
Decide on a few themes in which to organize items - a few you might start with might be: colors, shapes, animals, body parts. You can use books that have something to do with that theme (or make your own with images from magazines or web searches). You can use objects that relate to that theme (dolls, toys, household items, pictures/photographs). Read and talk about the things you've collected!
For ideas about what to say, think about answering basic "wh-" questions about what you see.
+ Sound and Source
Even in utero, research confirms that babies recognize the sound of their mothers’ voices. Once born, they learn to associate comfort with the voices they hear most often. Though other senses may not be as developed in the early days, your baby should be able to hear quite well (assuming the ear and auditory system are intact and healthy)... though she cannot yet locate the source of a sound.
Speak and make noises to your baby - it doesn't matter what you talk about! Your baby is listening to the sounds, melody and rhythm of your speech... and, over time, she will learn to understand the content of your words. Help your baby to make the connection to the source of a sound you make, and vary the types of sounds.
Lay with your baby on one side or the other, sit/stand closer or farther away when you speak to her. Vary your volume at times, by speaking or singing more loudly and more softly (remember, your baby may startle at sounds that are too loud or sudden). Make or play music (recorded and/or your live singing voice), or play an instrument - whether it's a violin or a rattle!
+ Social Smile
Typically, babies develop what is known as a “social smile,” or an intentional smile, somewhere between 6-8 weeks. In the early days and weeks after birth, you may see your baby turn her mouth upwards, seemingly smiling... though this is beautiful to witness, it is most likely your baby passing gas! A social smile indicates that your baby is beginning to make connections about human behavior. She realizes that returning your smile keeps your attention. This is a wonderful early step in back-and-forth communication, and in developing her self-esteem, as it lets your baby know that you think her feelings are important.
Remember that the more you smile at your baby, the more your baby will watch and try to imitate (just as she watches and listens when you speak, read aloud, or sing to her). When your baby is relaxed and alert, bring her close and smile widely, speaking to her gently. At this age, your baby sees best only up to 12 inches away. This is about the space between your face and where you hold her to your body in your arms). Make sure you are close enough to be seen. If you don’t know what to say...
Simply greet your baby, playing with your voice’s tones (going up and down, speaking in a slightly sing-song pitch). Vary the speed at which you speak or sing to your baby, going from fast to slow or slow to fast, so she listens to the changes in your voice. Go from farther away to closer to her, burying your head in her tummy - she may find this close contact and vocal play to be hilarious. You don’t need to wait until 6-8 weeks to play in this way. Though you need not expect a wide grin in response prior to this, your baby will take in your actions and start to make the important connections that she can affect her environment and the people in her life.
+ Earliest Communication
In the first few weeks of your baby's life, crying was an unintentional, instinctual act to attract attention and meet her needs. Assuming her crying results in your prompt response, from about 6 weeks of age, your baby has started to understand that if she cries, her needs will be met. In this way, crying becomes your baby's first "communicative" act. For the first three months, babies are using uncontrolled sounds with their mouths, such as tongue clicking, gurgling, burping, coughing, and vowel-like sounds. Soon, these vowel sounds will shape more clearly into "cooing" sounds.
When your baby cries, let her know you are there for her (and do your best to give her what she needs). Look into "Dunstan Baby Language" This system of reading the reflexive sounds your baby makes may help you learn to differentiate her cries in the first three months. When your baby is awake and alert, lie next to her or put your head close to hers and imitate her sounds, adding your own.
The "best" sounds are language in action - hearing the sounds of your home language(s) is what allows her to catalogue information about speech sounds and language in general. Every time you speak to her, you are teaching her more about human communication! That said, any sounds you make are great, because she can study the way your mouth moves, and the different qualities of all the sounds you make.
Practice "taking turns" - when your baby makes a sound, imitate hers or make one of your own back to her, then stay quiet for several seconds or until she responds back. Remember that the sounds and "melody" of the language(s) you speak with your baby are helping her to form later understanding of speech and language. Every time you speak to her, she learns more about language (and about you)!
motor / sensory
+ Hold Me Close
Your baby is most likely happiest when he is in your arms. He can smell you, touch you, feel your breath... all his sensory needs are met. Not only are you providing him with a sense of security and with time together, you are also helping your baby with his motor development, while you are holding him!
Hold your baby in different positions, or on alternate sides of your body (while continuing to support his head). This gives him different perspectives. It also strengthens various muscle groups Bring him to different places - outside, to various rooms, to the window. Give him a variety of views and sensations, such as natural light from the window, fresh air on his face, the sound of birds or of wind...
+ Room To Move
Babies spend the early days, weeks and months learning to move… being confined in equipment does not allow them to do this! Other than in your arms, the safest position, and most beneficial for learning about her body, is laying down on a flat, firm surface. Laying in a car seat or even in a "moses basket" or bassinet for much or all of the day doesn't give her access to much physical input from the environment. Engineer and change the environment!
Place her on her back on a clean, firm surface (a blanket on the floor is really all you need!), allowing her to stretch or wave her arms and legs. You might put tissue paper (or any crinkled paper) near her hands or feet, so that her movements result in making a sound. Place her near a shatterproof mirror where she can see herself – she may be fascinated by watching her own movements! Find a sheltered place outside (ensuring she is warm or cool enough) and give her opportunities to spend time connecting with the fresh air, in the grass or in the snow!
Start giving your baby opportunities for “tummy time” from as early on as you can. For typically-developing babies, this can be very shortly after they're born! If you haven't been doing this regularly, it's not "too late" to start! Lay down next to her and gently speak to her, then go to the other side (or have your partner on the other side). Take turns speaking her name. Sing a song, say a nursery rhyme, or tell her a story - while you're down on her level. If you ever feel you are "bombarding" her with sound and stimulation, call her name once and wait before you speak again... it will likely take her several seconds to respond, but if you give her time to process the sound of your voice, she may respond a few seconds later. If she does not, try again, or limit your input.
+ Early Textural Experience
Newborns have automatic responses called "reflexes," which enable them to do various things instinctively. By about 3-4 months or so, typically developing babies will start to purposefully attempt to reach and grasp objects with their hands.
Before this, a young infant will hold onto an object if placed in his palm (this is called the palmar grasp reflex). Take advantage of the palmar grasp reflex, and place different kinds of objects in or near your baby's hand to allow her to experience various textures even though she isn't yet purposefully reach for items.
Ideas include (but not limited to): your finger (human touch is like nothing else!), something soft (a blanket, sheepskin), something that makes noise or rattles when knocked or moved (a shaker, a safely sealed bottle with rice inside), something cool (a smooth rock) and something warm (a surface after it's been touched by a hot water bottle), something different (sandpaper, a "dryer ball," something wooden, metal, plastic, or cardboard, etc.)
social / emotional
+ Senses and Moods
Brand new babies are learning to take an interest in senses - what they see, hear, feel, smell, and how they move. They are also learning to calm themselves… through you! From the first weeks of life, babies respond to care differently – some are more sensitive to their environment than others. Also, some can more easily understand the messages their senses take in. Watch and attend to your baby's different moods.
When she is calm and alert, lay down next to her and watch her. Speak to her softly about what she sees, hears, smells, feels with her fingers, what her body is doing.
When she cries, offer comfort through: you (your touch, smell, voice, movement, milk), through an object that may have your smell, or with a change in "sensory" environment (dimmer lights, less noise, varied temperature, different materials around her.
+ Baby Takes A Break
Though very young babies benefit from interaction, movement, visual input (things they see) and auditory input (sounds, or things they hear), they also have a hard time processing these things when too much input is presented at once or for too long.
Young babies don't have a very long attention span, and are typically very easily overwhelmed. They often play (make eye contact, touch toys, etc.) for brief periods of time before they become "over-stimulated." Your baby will let you know when he is done playing, but it is up to you to read his cues. It may be that he cries or fusses, rubs his eyes, turns his head, arches his back, or falls asleep.
Watch what she “tells” you, and respect this early communication by giving him a rest (changing or pausing the activity). His body may change – in color (pale or bright red), breath (fast or choppy breathing), or movement (jerky or shaky), or his behavior may change – going from alert and engaged to:he may “space out” – he may suddenly look away and stare at “nothing;” he may “shut down” – he may go from engaged to suddenly quite sleepy; he may “switch off” – he may continually turn away from you if you keep trying to engage.
You might offer comfort through: yourself (your touch, smell, soft voice, milk) - the suckling reflex may calm him; decreased stimulation - speak more quietly, remove some of the objects around him; a change in "sensory" environment (dimmer light, less noise, colder or warmer temperature, different materials around him.
+ Routines and Rituals
It can be said that caregiving routines are often the most powerful opportunities for learning. These are the experiences that happen regularly and consistently throughout the day. Not only is your baby experiencing and participating (in her own way) in daily routines, she is also learning about interaction, and will eventually be able to predict what will come next as well as anticipate transitions from the end of one activity to the start of a new one. Traditionally, we think of daily routines for babies as events like waking up, going to sleep, eating/drinking (nursing/bottle, eventually solids), washing and bathing, dressing, diaper changing, etc.
Sing a special song or say a phrase during each of those times. It could be something you have heard or enjoyed, or something a family member said to you when you were small. When your baby wakes up to start the day, for instance, you might look out the window and sing a song (or talk) about the weather outside. Even saying something in a silly voice to prepare her for the next activity (such as, "stiiiinky diaper! It's tiiiiime for a new one!" will provide a consistent cue for her to learn what comes next and create a silly ritual shared by the two of you. Add your own rituals.
These might be things you do daily, or things you do to mark special or rare occasions to "celebrate" different aspects of various events. You might think about what you can do to transition from one part of the daily routine to the next (sing a song / say a silly rhyme about play time), or what special items you might bring out to help calm your baby if she gets a bump (a lavender pouch to place near her, a warmed pillow, a special picture book).
Bring this information to life
+ Musical Experiences
- Hum or sing a song you knew when you were young, or a current favorite of yours!
- While playing a song on your sound system, tap the beat on your baby’s body, or hold your baby while swaying with the rhythm.
- Perform a finger play in front of your baby while changing a diaper or bathing him (do a quick internet search of “finger play” if you can’t remember one on your own)!
+ Literacy Experiences
- Find high contrast images (books, downloads, flashcards, etc) & place them above/next to your baby - you can hold them yourself, or attach them to a mobile or activity gym. Talk about what you see!
- Read out loud to your baby - whether it’s a recipe, a children’s book, or a news article.
- Place letter-shaped blocks,puzzle pieces, magnets, or paper drawings in your baby’s environment (within 12 inches).
+ Sensory Experiences
- Place something that smells like you next to your baby.
- Give your baby some time to be naked! Place a diaper, disposable puppy/bed pad, or washable cloth under your baby & give her time to move, unencumbered.
- Try holding your baby in different ways as you walk with her - flat on her belly resting on your arm, perched on your shoulder, facing out while resting on your chest.
+ Visual Supports
- Place photo of loved ones or a mirror on the wall next to your baby’s changing area.
- Collect images from old magazines or an internet search & find pictures that represent emotions, actions, foods, animals, or objects. Place around your baby and talk about what you see!
- Take a walk around your home and talk about what you see - label, describe, explain its function!