What parents of a newborn need to know during playtime!
New parents, congratulations! What an exciting and wonderful time. Of course, it can also be overwhelming at times. Don’t pay too much attention to that little voice in your head that’s always asking, “Am I doing this right? Am I doing enough?” You’re doing fine.
Playtime, with an infant, is all the time…except maybe at 3 AM. Every interaction, be it feeding, bathing, or changing is another chance to interact, communicate, and play with your little one. Talk, as if you were thinking out loud, through all of these activities. “Mommy’s going to take put your shirt on now,” or “Daddy’s holding the sponge.” While your child may not know what you are talking about, these verbal exchanges are setting the stage for some key understandings. Words communicate. Words have meanings. Smiles express emotions. You care. You are totally involved.
A baby who has these concepts will be more prone to explore his or her own ways to communicate in just a few months. When baby babbles and you respond you are saying, “I hear you, I want to know what you are thinking, I like to talk to you!”
Maria Montessori was very wise when she told us to “follow the child” and infancy is the most important time to start learning how to do this. The love and security that you communicate by smiling, cooing, and responding to your child’s early communications tell your child that he or she is loved, respected, and important. A secure child is a happy child. He or she will feel free to explore his or her environment, knowing that you are always nearby and interested.
Once you get through those first few months your child will start to grab things and more opportunities for play open up. Again, follow your child. If the baby is stacking blocks smile, clap, or make a stack of your own. If the baby is shaking a rattle shake your own rattle. By joining the baby’s game you are reinforcing that security bond with your child and communicating, “I see you, I understand what you are doing.” As your child matures you might add an element to an established game. For example, if the child is stacking blocks suggest that he or she use the red one. The child’s attention is now focused on the colors of the blocks in addition to their weight, size, and texture.
Keep games at a level that is comfortable, yet somewhat challenging, for your little one. Be careful not to inundate him or her with “educational” toys trying to teach letters, numbers, colors, or shapes too quickly. Those concepts are important and will come easily and naturally if you concentrate on adding a simple element to existing games, slowly and gradually.
We want what’s best for our children, and in that pursuit, we may feel an urgency to make sure our children are stimulated and exposed to educational concepts faster than most children are able absorb them. Keep in mind that slow and steady wins this race. The bond you build by playing with your baby and following his or her lead – and pace – will truly help your child grow. Foster that innate curiosity and you will find your child chooses active, self-motivated exploration and learning. And that makes learning fun for everyone!