3 - 6 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.
+ Exploring Properties
￼Around the age of four months, babies typically develop "binocular vision," allowing their eyes to work together and see farther than the previous 12-14 inches away (just far enough to look into a parent or caregiver's eyes from where he's sitting in your arms).
This visual development, along with the development of more fine motor control with their fingers, allows your baby to delve into the world of reaching and grasping. As your baby's fine motor skills increase during this period (3-6 months), he will start to transfer objects between his hands, and "play" with objects more purposefully. You might organize a few (safe!) objects for your baby according to their "property" - find a few objects in yr home that are "alike" in some way, and place them in a low bowl (a mixing bowl, a wooden basket) or on the floor next to him. This can be done during tummy time, or simply when lying on the floor on his back or side.
You might organize the objects by: color, shape, texture, etc. You might locate a variety of square(ish)-shaped objects (i.e., a book, a puzzle piece, a soap dish, and a small box). Your baby may pick one out and inspect it. Watch how your baby engages with the object and talk about what he is doing. You might take out an object and model to your baby different ways to play with it (i.e., open and close a box, shake it to see if anything is inside, etc.). All the while, narrate what you're doing. Even if your baby does not readily imitate your play with the item, he will be "taking it in" and storing that information for later.
+ Making Choices
Your baby is starting to make purposeful movements, and is also beginning to make rudimentary choices or decisions during play. She will decide which toy to pick up, and will study it in various ways (often, this will primarily oral exploration!)
Allowing your baby to make a choice not only gives her the feeling that she has a say in what happens in her life, but also creates additional opportunities for back and forth communication between you - she "chooses" something, and you read her response, validating her purposeful communication and her ability to make a decision.
Give your baby choices whenever you can! It may be easier (for her and for you) to present two choices at a time.
You may read her non-verbal responses to your options by looking at: Her gaze - it may linger at one object after she looks between the two, or he may only focus on one. Her gesture - she may reach for one or move her body towards one of them.
When you see her "choose" one, give her feedback about what you saw "I saw you look at this one! Sure, let's do that!" If she grabs both of them, there are a few options... accept that she would like both (when appropriate), take one for yourself one for her to play with (so you are playing with both together), or take a moment to see which one she is more focused on
If your baby appears overwhelmed by a number of choices (i.e., a boxful of toys): take two out and present them, one in each hand. As part of a bedtime routine: present two book options to her so she can choose which book to read (or in which order to read them). When you are dressing your baby: you might give her a choice of which clothing item to wear.
+ Observing Musical Differences
Young babies can be given the opportunity to observe differences in instrument sounds and different types of music with variations in rhythm, pitch, and tonality.
Infants within this age range (3-6 months) are often partial to the interactive nature of a caregiver singing directly to them. Give your baby the opportunity to both listen to various types of music (live and recorded), and also to play with creating different sounds herself.
When you sing to your baby, play with the words and adjust them to your needs. For instance, a song that is usually about brushing teeth can become a song about driving in a car. Start to use familiar tunes with unfamiliar words (repetition with variation) to keep your baby interested and expose her to familiar vocabulary in a new context.
Provide your baby with a number of instruments that vary in the type of sounds she can make. She may focus on simply moving the instruments to make the sound (cause and effect), or she may inspect it to figure out how it works. Feeling it in and around her mouth may be a major part of understanding the object's texture, shape, size, etc. Young babies will often enjoy handling instruments such as egg shakers, maracas, bells and drums The same types of objects can easily be made at home with beans/grains/kernels placed in safely sealed containers or with upside down pots, pans, plastic or metal bowls, etc.
￼Babies become quite interactive during this period, and start to use their voices to coo (using vowels such as "oo" and "ah") around the age of 3-4 months. Your baby may smile and coo at you to express pleasure, request your attention, or to respond to something you said or did. When she communicates - with her voice, her facial expression, and/or her body, speak back to her.
You can imitate her sounds or movements, as well as speak about what she's doing. Pause and wait for her to initiate again (she may do it sooner or may do it after several seconds). In this way, you are engaging in a back-and-forth "conversation," taking turns as if you were talking with anyone else!
Sing a song or nursery rhyme, and when you finish, pause to watch what she does. If you perceive that she wants you to continue the activity (i.e., she smiles, giggles, wiggles her extremities, looks directly into your eyes, coos to you, etc.) You might say, "let's do it again!" In this way, you are modeling to her that you value her response, and can read what she communicates to you!
+ Joint Attention
As babies begin to become more interactive, they start to develop social awareness, paying attention not only to an object in front of them, but also to how their caregiver is engaging with that object. They begin to engage in what is known as joint attention. This is, essentially, the shared attention between two people interacting with each other and with an object (it could be your hands, a puppet, a plane in the sky that your baby looks at, etc.) A "sister" to joint attention is joint reference. This refers to the going back and forth between the object and person - through your gaze, words, and gestures, you refer to each other and to the object.
Joint attention is also a part of learning the skill of taking turns, in that each of the "communication partners" (you and your baby) is looking to the other for a communicative purpose (perhaps for acknowledgment, to comment, to affirm or negate, etc.), and when that message is received by one, it's up to the other person to continue the conversation!
Create lots of interactive shared experiences. In real life, this translates in basic everyday activities that you share with your baby (caregiving routines like diapering, feeding, bath time, etc. as well as short play activities). Talk about what you're doing, what you see where you are.
Respond to your baby's gaze (by following it, commenting on it), gesture (say the word aloud for what she's pointing to, and expend, guessing based on context whether she's making a request, commenting, or something else), vocalization (did it sound like a word? Was she playing with her voice? Assuming that she used her voice to communicate something, regardless of whether it was a specific idea or simply a feeling, and talk about what you think she might be saying, and why!).
Expand, expand, expand the conversation, model joint referencing - if you're referring to something nearby, use gestures (like pointing), and look back and forth between the object/person and your baby.
Other natural activities that promote joint attention: reading, sitting together (for instance, looking out the window), laying together and looking together at something with which your baby is already engaged, blowing bubbles. Using puppets
+ Early Literacy
It is never too early to expose your child to early literacy skills! It's important to recognize that the term "early literacy" is not the same thing as "learning how to read."
When you read to / with your baby, you are teaching him about joint attention, described in last week's activity. You create an interactive, shared experience.
When reading to your baby, you expose him to text - and highlight its importance in our lives. No book is "too advanced" for your baby if used appropriately! In the early months, it's not as much about content as it is about your baby hearing your voice, feeling close to you, and watching (and being part of) what you're doing and how you interact with the world.
You might read a page and point to a picture, then look at and say to your baby, "look at that fish! See the fish?" Even very young babies (if caught in the right moment) will look at the pictures, look at you, then look again toward the book - as if to say, "Yes, I see it! Let's look more!"
Encourage your baby to engage directly and appropriately with books. If your baby reaches out to touch a book, encourage her to "turn the page," - even if that simply means that you move the page towards her hand to tempt her to reach out and touch it!
Read using lots of animated voices to help keep her attention. Let her hear you play with your voice - she'll start doing the same once she starts to coo, shriek, blow raspberries, and babble!
Point to different objects and characters on the page (if there are pictures) and name them. ALSO, talk about what the characters are doing, what time of day/season, etc. Don't be confined by the text on the page
motor / sensory
+ Infant Massage
￼Body awareness is part of perceptual motor development, or the process of taking in, organizing and interpreting information that the body senses. Helping your baby start to understand where her body begins and ends through touch is a wonderful way to help her develop her perceptual motor skills. There are many benefits to infant massage: it inherently promotes interaction between you and your baby, it can calm your baby, and it can help to reduce stress levels (for both of you!).
When your baby is relaxed and happy,remove her clothes and diaper and lay her on a flat, comfortable surface (a mat, blanket, or sheepskin). Look into her eyes and "ask" her if you can touch her. Give her the chance to look back at you, wiggle in delight, smile, or react with other signals that you are learning to read as "positive."
Gently rub his legs, feet, arms and hands, stomach, neck, and forehead. Try different kinds of light and (very) moderate pressure to see what she prefers. Some infants (and toddlers!) are calmed by different types of touch (light vs. deep pressure).
Create a calm and relaxing atmosphere: look into your baby's eyes, speak softly or sing a favorite song, try dimming the lights or only using natural light. You might tell her what part of her body you're "working" on, or what is coming next. You may choose to use an emollient, edible oil (edible - in case your baby ingests some from her skin). There are oils marketed as "infant massage oil" (which are, indeed, lovely!) but sunflower oil, for instance, can work just as well! You might test the oil on her skin first by applying a small dollup on a patch of her skin.
You can continue for as long as you and your baby are enjoying the activity! If your baby does not respond positively, simply try again another time.
+ Reach & Hold
Typically, from 3-4 months of age, babies begin to reach out for things around them and soon attempt to hold onto these objects. This is a big step in your baby's development, as she is starting to move more purposefully. Your baby will likely start by willfully swiping at objects that attract her attention (the beginning of "reaching"). As time goes on, the fingers and thumb begin to extend (independent of the whole hand) to sweep up objects, and flex to contain objects (the start of holding an object).
Your baby will likely bring an object she has grasped up to her mouth - this is because "oral exploration" is a natural early developmental stage, wherein your baby is able to discover the taste and texture of different objects. When she is content to play, introduce various objects in her immediate environment and at different levels; for instance, things she can see on her tummy, on her back, on the wall beside her, directly above her, and slightly out of reach.
Try presenting a new toy by modeling what you might do with it. First demonstrate, yourself. She may or may not follow suit - for instance, if you shake a rattle or bang on a drum, she may do the same or may simply grab and mouth the object. Either way, she is exploring and learning (she also may not be interested in that object, which is perfectly acceptable! She is developing her own preferences!
Allow her to experience objects that vary in color, texture, size, shape, or that make various sounds when you touch them (such as an egg shaker or a rattle). As she touches these objects, talk about what is different or similar about each of them. Allow her to attempt purposeful movement!
It can be tempting to bring her hand to an object to "help" her interact with it, but if you allow her to attempt things herself at her own pace, you might be surprised by what she can do herself! Blowing bubbles can be a wonderfully interactive activity. Your baby might attempt to "pop" a bubble herself if you bring it close to her
+ Tummy & Turn
Continue to give your baby opportunities to spend supervised time on his tummy, as this helps him develop muscles (primarily those in his neck and trunk). As he learns to move in different ways - on his back, his belly, and turning from one to the other - he learns to explore and problem-solve. Rather than age as the best predictor of when babies will reach gross motor milestones, more recent studies indicate that experience may be the strongest predictor of later milestones such as crawling and walking.
Lie down facing your baby on your belly so you are on his level. Talk about or play with other objects that you might put in his vicinity, such as baby-safe mirrors, fabric books, rattles, etc.
Rather than using equipment to "assist" your baby to develop, create a safe play space on the floor that is non-restrictive. Allow him to enjoy his natural movements, exploration, and learning about his environment. This is the type of "experience" that will encourage him to reach, roll, and crawl. Encouraging your baby to move freely is also part of respecting his own initiative. Rather than handing him a toy, you might place several within or just out of reach. Watch to see which one he chooses, or how he problem solves how to reach it.
social / emotional
+ Respect For Baby
Infants learn to form expectations about how they'll be treated starting from very early in life. They learn how adults respond to their crying, smiling, and early sounds (cooing), and whether these communication attempts are valued by family members and other caregivers. When we as caregivers demonstrate to a baby that he is valued, we are showing him respect, in a sense. We respect and care about his needs and teach him to develop a sense of trust and security.
The first few months of life are often referred to as the "fourth trimester," as young infants are still very much dependent on the caregiver for physical needs. Some research suggests that in those early months especially, sensory experiences that mimic a "womb-like" environment (swaddling, "shushing," rocking, etc.) can help to calm very young infants. Now, however, your baby is starting to change, and is becoming more aware of and more curious about the outside world. He is picking up more information everyday, and the more positive input you can give him, the more positive is his understanding of the world.
Perhaps most importantly, try to be aware of your own emotional responses in the presence of your baby. Your baby learns what respectful, appropriate expressions are through you as caregiver - your facial expressions, the tone of your voice, etc.
Try to be aware of (and when possible, avoid!) making negative observations about your baby, or about others in your presence, in front of him - even if you feel he is "too young" to understand! Label your baby's emotions, or ask what he might be feeling when he has a strong reaction to something.
Hushing and shushing his cries were very effective in the early days, but now you might find that validating his emotions, giving words to his feelings, and speaking directly to him may do more to reassure him that his feelings are valued. Give your baby time to respond to you when you ask him a question or make a comment, to model good turn-taking skills. In this way, you model that you'll be patient and wait for his response before moving on to another question.
Talk to your baby about what is coming next in the day, what you'll be doing, and who you'll see. Make her part of the process of the day.
Part of your baby's social/emotional development includes his ability to establish positive relationship with others - both adults and peers. Young babies often prefer to look at people (over objects) and, when alert and calm, are very much interested in engaging socially.
Collect a few favorite photographs of family, friends, and/or departed loved ones, and put them in a baby-friendly "photo album" or collection of pocket sheet protector pages - anything that your baby can easily look at, or hold and touch or mouth without completely destroying the integrity of the photo. Use this as an opportunity to talk about those people, and integrate those who have passed on.
Tell the story of what is happening in the photograph. Answer your own who, what, where, when, why questions to keep you talking. Alternatively, find images of animals, nature objects, even interesting textures or colors (in old magazines, from a printed web search). Post them in your home (at baby's level!) and use this as an opportunity to talk about what you see. This may be a nice option to have on the wall next to a diaper-changing station.
At this young age, building relationships, interacting with others, and building an identity of self in relation to others are all crucial components of social and emotional development.
Care routines (such as diapering, eating, dressing, bathing, bathing, etc.) are more emotionally satisfying for your baby when there is interaction and participation on both your parts. Puppets can be a useful tool to encourage creative play and vocabulary development - and can be great for you as a parent to help you feel comfortable being silly!
Puppets come in all shapes and sizes. They can provide an entertaining distractor for little hands to reach and hold as your baby becomes more wiggly and mobile! Puppets can take any form or be made from any material. They can be soft and cuddly animals / people / objects, made from a paper bag (colored, decorated with a face), a sock or stocking, a glove...
Use them to focus on or talk about specific vocabulary, such as body parts or action words. The puppet can point to its own body parts or your baby's, or can act out actions like crawling or dancing).
Make them a part of a reading activity: they can act out parts of the story or be the character in the story.
Help baby to stay entertained: while on the go, you can use smaller finger puppets in the stroller, car, public transportation. Play peek-a-boo, sing silly songs, dance and do finger plays.
bring this information to life
+ Musical Experiences
- Sing a song you already know and replace all the words (with baby’s name, the sound “la,” or a with a whole new set of words about something you’re doing, (e.g. folding clothes or preparing food.)
- Place a drum, upside down mixing bowl, or cardboard box in front of your baby and watch him bang away!
- Sing a song to the rhythms he makes above!
+ Literacy Experiences
- Stop in front of a poster, billboard or magazine cover, and point out something you see, linking the printed image with the word and story.
- Find a children’s book with a theme, and try to think of an object in your home that relates to that theme (e.g., a book about animals + an animal puppet)
- Offer a cloth or board book for baby to grab, hold, mouth, and manipulate.
+ Sensory Experiences
- Find a fragrant herb, flower or essential oil (e.g., lavender, rose petal, basil) allow your baby to smell it.
- Find clothing items made of different materials, and allow your baby to handle each one.
- Find a sheltered place outside (ensure baby is warm or cool enough) and give your baby opportunities to connect with the fresh air, in the grass or in the snow!
+ Visual Supports
- Talk about pictures you see (on the wall, in magazines or books) - offer more information than what it is - try to say something about who, when, where, why...
- Sit outside together and talk about what you see!
- Pair a word you say with a gesture, providing a visual representation of the object, thought, person, action, etc.