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Baby Development: How to Keep Your Little One Stimulated

Judy Koutsky
March 27, 2015

During your child's first year, he tackles some big changes. Check out what activities you can do to keep your baby's mind growing and help this important stage of baby development along.

By the time your child reaches his first birthday, you'll hardly recognize the newborn he was only a short year ago. (Can you believe he used to fit in that tiny onesie?) Your baby may not being saying much yet, but there's plenty going on behind those pretty eyes and cute smile. His intellect is growing at a fast pace, so make sure you involve him in all the things you do to encourage his baby development. Read on to see how you can stimulate your baby's brain with simple toys and games.

  • 0 to 3 Months
    In your baby's first couple months of life, the most powerful ways to promote cognitive development are also the most basic, natural activities. Talking to your baby helps lay the early foundations of language development. In addition, playing classical music, singing to your baby, holding him and giving him tummy time all are extremely important, says Dr. Alice Ann Holland, an assistant professor in psychiatry and clinical faculty member at Children's Medical Center Dallas.

    Dr. Holland notes that typically at about 2 months, babies start paying attention to faces and tracking objects visually. To promote this kind of learning, you can give your baby toys that make a sound when manipulated, such as a rattle. The best kind to get? "Ideally, use rattles with black-and-white patterns or strong contrast colors to stimulate visual development," says Dr. Susan Bartell, a parenting and child psychologist who works with Please and Carrots to curate developmentally appropriate toys for kids based on critical milestones. "Wrist rattles encourage arm movement and discovery."

    Remember, though, that babies this young typically can't focus on objects farther than 8 or 10 inches away from their faces, so stay close when playing with toys with your baby, says Dr. Holland.
  • 4 to 7 Months
    Your baby's curiosity is starting to develop, so you want to encourage reaching, pulling, grasping and squeezing as he explores the unfamiliar. Place new toys in front of him and show him how to "rake" towards one. Once he grasps it and picks it up, encourage hand-to-hand transfer so he can learn to detect differences between new and old toys. Show him how you do it, then help him until he starts to do it on his own, explains Dr. Bartell.

    Your little one is learning about cause and effect at this age. He'll get a kick when he discovers the sounds he can make by banging two objects together or that silly noises will make you laugh. Provide opportunities for your baby to practice these theories during playtime: stack things up for him to knock over or demonstrate what buttons he can push to make his toy light up.

    At about 5 months, your baby has developed much better color vision, notes Dr. Holland. "Reading simple picture books to your baby while showing him the pages should help develop two skills at once -- language development and visual and color processing." Let him help turn the pages if he's so inclined, which will also hone his motor skills.
  • 8 to 12 Months
    At this stage, there are many little things your baby is starting to do. He is developing his pincer grip by holding objects between his thumb and index finger. What's good for baby development at this point are toys with movable parts that baby can hold with these two fingers and move back and forth, says Dr. Bartell. Another good option? Have your little one place items in and out of a container -- this is important for dexterity and grasping, as well as hand-eye coordination, Dr. Bartell explains.

    At this time babies are also beginning to understand the idea of object permanence -- in other words, they know an object that is hidden still exists. You can help your baby develop this cognitive skill by hiding toys under cloths and allowing baby to search for and find the toy, says Dr. Holland. Playing peekaboo is also great for this skill. Other good options? Putting together simple puzzles, copying block patterns, building towers -- they all promote problem-solving and fine motor skills.

Spending time with your little one each day -- reading books, putting together puzzles, taking him to the park -- are all great ways to encourage your child's cognitive development. Remember, it's not the expensive toys that help kids grow, it's the interaction with their parents, caregivers and other kids.

For more stimulation, try these Activities for Infants That Stimulate the Senses.

Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of Parenting.com, AOL Parent and BabyTalk.com. Follow her on twitter.

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