Our child psychologist explains why physical play helps develop your baby’s mind too
You’ve probably noticed that your baby has a natural curiosity to learn about the world around her. It’s this inquisitiveness that spurs an ‘up-and-at-’em!’ attitude that drives her to constantly explore and discover. But did you realise that being physically active like this is great for her brainpower, too? Moving about all the time boosts her thinking skills. Every time she rolls, crawls or even waves her arms, she has to think about what she’s trying to achieve, what she’s reaching for and then what she’ll do with that object. Through movement and physical games, she improves not just her knowledge of her surroundings, but also her focus and her concentration.
Your baby instinctively searches for stimulation. Right from the moment she arrives in the world, she has sufficient vision, hearing, touch, taste and smell to start learning and investigating. For instance, she turns to stare at anything that attracts her attention, she grabs hold of anything that is within reach, she tries to pull herself towards objects. She also listens keenly to a whole variety of sounds and she starts to use babbling to attract your attention. However, she also needs you to provide stimulation for her. That’s where the toys you provide come in. Choosing the right ones – brightly coloured, noisy and with a variety of textures – means you’re making the most of her desire to expand her brainpower.
Where you play is also key to encouraging active babies with super-keen minds. If your little one can’t reach for a toy, she can’t choose it and play with it. She’s totally dependent on you to sit or lie her in a way that she can see her toys clearly and touch them comfortably. At first, you’ll need to hold them within her reach (e.g. rattles for small babies). Then, when she’s several months old, the best position is likely to be sitting on the floor, propped up with cushions for support. As she gets older, and can crawl, you can open up an area of a room and have toys scattered around. That way she gets a choice of what to play with – and has to move to make that choice too. Her brain and body will be in ‘full steam ahead’ mode!
Your tot can be active when she’s on her own, too. The easiest way to do this is to hang
a mobile on the ceiling so that it dangles in her line of vision, or attach an activity centre to the side of her cot, within reach of her inquiring hands. Multi gyms are also perfect for encouraging her to reach out without your prompts.
1. Take her lead. Watch out for her favourite toys and games so you can encourage her interests.
2. Allow her free play. Sometimes you’ll find she can discover and explore for herself, and you don’t need to guide her so much.
3. Talk. She might not understand but talking stimulates her interest and involvement in spoken language.
4. Play along. When you join in, it boosts her confidence in what she’s doing.
5. Keep it fun. Don’t be afraid to be silly and loud.
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