Your baby may be halfway (or more!) through her first year of life, but she'll experience many more physical, mental, and social and emotional changes before that first birthday actually arrives. Not only is she more interested in the world around her, she'll soon be crawling, cruising, or walking around in it. There's no stopping her progress into toddlerhood, and with a little TLC, you can help her reach the next stage.
"Playing and connecting with our babies gets their brain development going," says Roni Cohen Leiderman, Ph.D., dean of the Mailman Segal Center for Human Development at Nova Southeastern University and co-author of Let's Play and Learn Together. "Our love, attention, time, and touch with our baby are the most important parts of developmental activities. Everything is underlined with parent-child interaction."
Wondering the best ways to encourage baby's growth? Dr. Leiderman and two other experts offer these simple but powerful development-boosting activities.
Materials needed: Small toys or books, blanket
What to do: Place a toy or book under a blanket, leaving part of the object showing. Then ask your baby, "Where is it?" and encourage him to look for it. "Babies will usually grab it and dig under the blanket," says Robert Myers, Ph.D., a child and adolescent psychologist, founder of the Child Development Institute, and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. "If yours doesn't, you could remove and then replace the blanket."
Variations: After your baby has mastered finding a partly hidden object, move on to hiding it completely under the blanket.
Skills learned: Fine motor skill development, object permanence
Materials needed: Plastic measuring cups
What to do: Take turns stacking the cups and knocking them down. You can also have a "race," where you both stack cups at the same time.
Skills learned: Understanding cause and effect, fine motor skills
Materials needed: Wooden puzzles
What to do: Around her first birthday, your baby will be ready for large wooden puzzles, Dr. Myers says. He suggests ones with colorful shapes or pictures. "Show and tell them first how it works—you may have to guide their hands," he says. "Clap and cheer when they are successful."
Skills learned: Problem solving, fine motor skills, visual skills
Materials needed: Board or cloth picture books
What to do: Regularly read books to your baby, pointing to the pictures as you read and engaging her by changing your voice for different characters. Invite your little one to participate by encouraging her to laugh or act surprised by the story, touch the pictures, and turn the pages.
Skills learned: Language development, listening skills
5. CLAP WITH ME
What to do: Around 6 to 8 months of age, your child will learn to clap, Dr. Leiderman says, so encourage her with this rhyme:
Clap, clap, one, two, three
Clap, clap, clap with me.
Clap, clap, four and five.
Clap, clap, clap, bees in hive.
Clap, clap, six, seven, eight.
Clap, clap, clap, you are great.
Clap, clap, nine and ten.
Clap, clap, let's do it again.
Skills learned: Imitation, rhyming
6. RHYME TIME
What to do: Sing songs with real or made-up words that rhyme, like "thump, thump, thump, bump, bump, bump, jump, jump, jump." You might feel a little silly, but all that rhyming is another way to boost your baby's language development. "Like touch, talking with your baby is like food for their bodies and their minds," Dr. Leiderman explains. "A child's receptive understanding of language starts long before their expressive language, so we want to use as many opportunities as possible to drench them in language."
Skills learned: Develops auditory discrimination
7. SHAKE THE BOTTLE
Materials needed: Empty 16-ounce bottle, colored rice or pasta
What to do: Fill the bottle with the rice or pasta, and glue the top back on so your baby can safely watch and hear what happens as he shakes, rattles, and rolls the container. "A bottle doesn't usually make this noise," says Dr. Leiderman, "so now they are hearing new and novel things, which brings an element of surprise. Babies this age are also learning so much about cause and effect, which is an exciting new skill."
Skills learned: Fine motor skills, auditory discrimination, cause and effect
8. DISAPPEARING CHEERIO
Materials needed: Cheerios, opaque plastic cups
What to do: Create your own version of the old-fashioned shell game by hiding a Cheerio under a cup and seeing if your baby can find it. This simple activity reinforces object permanence, a major concept.
Variations: Using two different-colored cups, put the Cheerio under one cup and move it around to see if she can remember which one was the hiding place. After she has found the Cheerio under the first cup, show her you are now putting it under the second cup and see if she remembers that the Cheerio has moved.
Skills learned: Attention skills, memory development, object permanence
9. LIGHT SHOW
Materials needed: Colored plastic containers, mini flashlights
What to do: Turn on some mini flashlights, and drop them into empty water bottles, Tupperware, or any colored, lidded containers. Place your baby in tummy time in a dark room and let him explore the colorful lighted containers on the floor in front of him. "The harsh light of the LEDs will be diffused for little peepers, while any loose or removable parts will be safely away from baby's mouth," says Rachel Coley, an occupational therapist, author of Begin With a Blanket: Creative Play for Infants, and founder of CanDoKiddo.com. "Closely supervise as your little one grasps and turns, bangs and rolls the containers."
Variations: Take a flashlight out of a container, place your baby on her back and simply move the light slowly on a dark wall. "Pause on objects and talk to or with your child about what she's seeing," Coley adds.
Skills learned: Visual sensory stimulation, eye movement skills, sustained attention, socialization, bonding, body movement
10. BAGGY FINGERPAINTING
Materials needed: Washable finger paint, a gallon-size zippered freezer bag, tape
What to do: Squeeze a couple of dark colors of washable finger paint into a zippered baggy and seal tightly. Add duct tape for extra security. Spread the paint around to coat the inside of the bag, then place it on the floor in front of your baby during tummy time. Show him how to make marks on the outside of the bag with his hand or finger. "To preserve your little one's artwork, simply cut the edges off the bag and then peel off the top of the artwork, and lay flat to dry," Coley says.
Variations: Have an independent sitter? Try this activity in a high chair.
Skills learned: Sensory development, fine motor skills, understanding cause and effect, early writing skills
11. CONTAINER PLAY
Materials needed: Small toys, container
What to do: Place a few toys in a container with an opening a bit bigger than balls or pegs, plastic links, or other smaller items. Hand the container to your baby, who will probably turn it over and over, causing some toys to tumble out. "Eventually, your baby will realize that something is rattling around inside and that toys seem to be falling out of it, so she will start shaking, banging, and reaching inside the container," Coley says. Reload the container periodically until your kiddo figures out how to do it on her own.
Variations: Once she's gotten good at putting items in the container, you can extend the activity by choosing a narrow-mouthed container and longer toys, like rectangular blocks, pegs, and plastic spoons. "Your baby will learn through trial and error that she has to turn the objects to fit them into containers," she adds.
Skills learned: Object manipulation and orientation skills