As we get older, playtime is all about fun. For babies, it’s much more. Playtime helps babies learn about the world around them. More importantly, it stimulates their senses.
Learning through play
Developing sight and sound through play
When babies are born, they can't see much -- usually, just about a foot away from their face. Help stimulate your newborn's sight by hanging a high-contrast mobile above her crib. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends toys and mobiles with contrasting colors and patterns. Strong color contrasts of white, red and black, patterns with curves and symmetry are reported to stimulate baby's developing vision.
When your baby is born, hearing is her strongest sense. She'll likely recognize your voice instantly and will soon recognize the voice of other caregivers. For the first few months, your baby will learn about the world through sound more than through any other sense. To help stimulate your baby through sound, play music. Break out the maracas in her bed and dance with her in your arms while you play music. Make musical socks by attaching, small light-weight bells to baby's socks and mittens. The combination of movement and music is sure to engage and brighten playtime. Take long walks together and point out different sounds, such as water, cars, laughing, talking or animals.
As your baby gets older, help her to learn through sound. Show her pictures of animals and teach her what sound they make. Read her books and teach her simple songs to sing with you.
Explore taste and smell
If you've ever spent much time with a baby, you know they tend to stick everything in their mouths. While it may be quite fear-inducing for new moms (the threat of choking is very real), babies learn about objects by the way they taste and feel in their mouths. Instead of teaching your baby not to put things in his mouth, give him toys that are safe to chew. Offer up objects with lots of different textures for baby to explore with fingers and gums.
Once your baby is old enough for solid foods, stimulate her taste by giving her samples of different foods. Start slowly and under your pediatrician's instructions to avoid allergy issues. As she tastes these new foods, she'll be introduced to their smells as well. Try introducing new flavors with a mesh baby feeding teether. Baby can play and enjoy interesting tastes and smells with this relatively inexpensive toy -- they usually don't cost more than $5 -- without the risk of choking.
Stimulating play through touch
Touch is a major source of stimulation and learning for your baby. Not only can she be stimulated by touching items of different textures, but being touched also provides contact, reassurance, relaxation and comfort. Make sure to spend lots of time touching your baby. Stroke her back, stomach, arms and head. Touch her with different fabrics and use infant lotions to give her a baby massage. If you're not sure what to do or how to get started, ask your pediatrician for more information, look to see if any of the hospitals offer classes, or contact the American Massage Therapy Association.
Give your baby toys and blankets made of different materials to stimulate her sense of touch. Find toys with several different textures so your baby can experience many different feelings with one item. Board books made for babies sometimes offer different things to feel on the pages, allowing you to show your baby each new page. As you turn each page, place her hand on the item and describe it to her. Tell her which items are soft, scratchy, scaly etc.
Don't over-stimulate your baby. Give her only one or two toys at a time -- any more can be overwhelming.