As Covid-19 pandemic restrictions are being lifted, you might be wondering what activities to do with your baby. In our part of the world it is now possible to go to the public pool, library, indoor playgrounds and parent-and-baby classes and socializing groups.
Why do we want to take our babies to these activities and places? I would guess that for most parents the answer is, “to help my baby learn and socialize.” (Especially if baby was born during the pandemic.) Another answer might be, “to prepare my baby for preschool.” And that makes sense. But let’s take a closer look.
A “prepared” childhood
The way society sees babies and children is changing. Only a few decades ago many parents believed that responding to babies quickly and holding them a lot would make them grow into ungrateful, manipulative, spoiled children. Fortunately, we now know enough about child development to be confident that our attention absolutely does not “spoil” babies. Babies never manipulate us, but communicate their needs and feelings. Our sensitive responses are vital for our babies’ development: they strengthen attachment, help develop trust, allow babies to learn and help them regulate emotions—during babyhood and beyond.
This could have surprised your grandparents back in the day, but I bet it doesn’t surprise you or most young parents you know—and that’s really great! But now another narrative is emerging: that we must take advantage of the early windows of opportunity and enhance our babies’ development before it’s too late.
This “be prepared” vision has inspired a multitude of educational toys and baby activities and enrichment classes: electronic toys and apps immerse babies in music and foreign languages, flashcards provide stimulation, baby toy subscription boxes are gaining popularity, lessons such as “multi-sport class for babies as young as four months” and “infant aquatics” are readily available.
Do these baby activities and toys truly prepare our littles for a better future?
Helping babies learn
Looking closely at the science of infant development makes it clear: during the early months, protecting is preparing. Protecting babies from overtiredness, too much stimulation and too fast of a pace allows for the natural, gradual development of their identity, well-being, creativity and strength. And it has to do with how babies learn.
Five “ingredients” that help babies learn best
The good news is, five “ingredients” babies need most for learning—sound sleep, avoiding over-stimulation, stable environments, interacting with supportive adults and exploring safely and freely on their own—can be easily found in your home, backyard or local park! In fact, all of them may be easier for you to create—and for your baby to experience—in and around your home. Here are five great “baby activities” to support your baby’s learning:
1. Help your baby sleep soundly.
2. Make your home a calmer, more predictable, more natural space (for example, consider reducing screen time including background TV).
3. Slow down and be sensitive and mind-minded during daily care routines such as diapering, bathing and feeding.
4. Play with your baby: respond to baby-initiated “conversations” and curiosity, sing, play games such as peekaboo, pat-a-cake, rolling a ball, blowing bubbles, puppet shows and building block towers; follow your baby’s interests and his or her lead in choosing play objects and activities.
5. Create a 100% safe play area where your baby can explore freely on their own.
Sure an outing to the pool or a busy playground can be fun for you and your baby, but if you are not able to do these activities or not comfortable doing them right now, for any reason, your baby will still find plenty of opportunities to learn, connect and grow in your loving home.