Many people think that you can't play with a newborn, but nothing could be further from the truth! While most of your baby's first movements are reflexive and involuntary, she loves and thrives on interaction from her parents and caregivers. In fact, her intellectual and emotional well being depend on touch, movement, songs, voices, things to look at and things to taste and smell.
Your face and voice is the most fascinating thing in the world to your newborn. Right now her sight is a bit blurry and she sees things best at about 8-10 inches away. Surprisingly, her peripheral vision is better than her direct vision. Your baby's hearing, though, is well developed at birth and she will respond to sounds. Loud noises will cause her to startle, but the sound of your voice will comfort her; after all it's the voice she has heard constantly for the last nine months. She will turn to follow your voice or another soft soft. Your baby loves to interact with you through touch, and sound.
When your baby is tiny is may seem like you hold him constantly, but while you are holding him, you are also playing with him, talking to him and teaching him about her world. When you are cuddling, feeding and soothing your baby, you are nurturing him, and giving him security in this big, strange world.
While you are holding your baby, talk to her and explain her surroundings. This type of play is her early learning blocks of whom, what, and where. Even if you are speaking both parts of the conversation, the intonation, pauses and expression teach about conversation. During walks around the house keep up a running commentary. Talking to her about what you are doing is a simple kind of play.
Changing position and movement are important for development. Carrying your baby in different ways, like a sack of potatoes, in a football hold, over the shoulder, like an airplane, or in a sling as you do light household tasks can give your little one a different perspective on her world. As you carry her, explore different ways of moving with her. Gentle swaying, dancing, and bouncing (gently so as not to injure her neck or brain) are soothing to your baby.
Promote tummy time. Bring yourself down to baby's level. Get down on the floor with him. Play a slow game of peek-a-boo, show him little toys, or let him look into a child safe mirror. Tummy time helps promote neck strength and the coordination he will need later to roll over, sit up, crawl and eventually walk.
Music can be a fun playtime experience for both mom and baby. Put in your favorite cd and dance the day away. Babies love the movement and closeness. Sing to your baby, he doesn't mind if you don't remember the words, or if you sing off key. He loves the sound of your voice!
Mirrors are also another fun experience for baby. Hold him up to the mirror so she can see himself (remember, his vision is only accute in the 8-10" range). Make funny faces or play a different game of peek-a-boo -- this time it's him that peeks -- with your help of course!
Touch is an important part of play and encourages learning as well. Light tickles on the toes and tummy will soon elicit those first giggles. Soothing light massages help her relax. A silk scarf lightly touching baby's skin will feel much different than her blanket. A feather dragged gently across her hand or tummy will tickle and also gain you smiles soon. Encourage your little one to play with various textures by helping her touch all different sorts of materials and objects. Be sure to describe what she's feeling. "Oh that lamb is so fuzzy and soft! The carpet feels scratchy, doesn't it?"
Playing with your baby is her first step in learning. All those snuggles, strokes and talks you have together are making her happy and smarter and create precious memories for you!
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