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Activities for Infants That Stimulate the Senses

Olivia Briggs
March 27, 2015

You've heard it over and over from books, blogs, family and friends: "The first year of a baby's life is so important!" But does all the advice sometimes leave you feeling overwhelmed? Do you wonder what types of activities you should be doing with your infant? Truth is, most infants aren't interested in flashy toys and playing games. At this point in their development, activities should focus on sharpening their senses. To get you started, here are some simple activities for infants that stimulate the senses and promote healthy development.

  • Touch
    Dr. Alice Sterling Honig, a professor emerita of child and family studies at Syracuse University, stresses the importance of baby massage. Not only is it great for bonding between you and your baby, but it's also a significant promoter of brain development. Try combining infant massage with soothing music -- Dr. Honig recommends classical or else your very own parental pipes -- to create an experience that babies enjoy on both physical and emotional levels. As an added bonus, gentle, circular massaging of your baby's tummy can help relieve digestive issues.

    To learn more, check out these 3 Reasons to Try Baby Massage
  • Sound
    Vanessa Penberg, an early childhood and parent educator for the Excellence Foundation for Parents and Children, suggests a very simple activity you can do with your baby to help give her this important head start: narration. Yep, it's as easy as it sounds. Just talk to your baby about what you're doing while you're doing it.

    To help build auditory discrimination and sound learning, developmental psycholinguist Dr. Renate Zangl suggests "sound chants." Once you have your baby's attention, begin making exaggerated, elongated vowel sounds, such as "eeee" or "oooh." Repeat the sound, but don't forget to give your baby a chance to imitate the sound or shape your mouth is making in between. If she does, praise her! If she seems to be getting bored, try varying between high and low pitch when chanting.

    Taking a walk with your baby while telling her about what she is seeing and hearing, Penberg suggests, is a great bonding and educational activity. But don't feel like you need to do all the work. Dr. Honig stresses that babies love to listen to natural sounds as well. So if you get tired of talking, feel free to let the world around you provide the stimulation.
  • Sight
    When your baby is newborn age to 3 months old, sight is a great sense to focus on. Penberg suggests making a high-contrast cutout -- such as a white circle in a black one -- attaching it to a Popsicle stick, and tracking the object across your baby's line of vision. Not only does this activity help build vision and focus, it also aids in the development of neck muscles, as your baby turns her head to follow your homemade toy.

    According to Dr. Zangl, creating a "face gallery" is a great way to foster emotional and language skills, as well as visual discrimination. Simply place photos of familiar people -- including one of your baby -- on the wall, and carry your little one through your homemade exhibit. As you pass each photo, point to it, and in your best, most excited "parentese," tell your child who each person is.
  • Taste
    Between 8 and 12 months, the pincer grasp begins to develop, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A fun way to encourage both the grasp and baby's taste development is to put yogurt, Cheerios and banana slices into a zip-top bag, shake it up and then let your baby eat it on her own. Will you have a big cleanup ahead of you? Undoubtedly. But what a great opportunity to tell your baby all about the fun of cleanup time! (Wink, wink!) Dr. Honig adds that most babies like feeding themselves diced pieces of string cheese and bits of well-done hamburger. Grated apple tastes great and has the added bonus of aiding digestive function.

Both Dr. Honig and Penberg emphasize just how powerful touch is in early development, and it's important to include in activities for infants. So, cuddle, stroke and nuzzle away, and enjoy the benefits to body, mind and soul it brings to both you and your tot!

Olivia Briggs is a mother of one, a professional dramatic and editorial writer, and an arts educator.

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