Learning Games to Play with Babies
Keeping a baby entertained can be a full-time job. Teaching the baby through play can take even more effort. A baby's brain is developing at a rapid rate, so making the most of every interaction is important. There are numerous spur-of-the-minute games that parents and babysitters come up with such as handing a baby keys, singing, making silly faces, etc. All these seemingly silly little attempts to keep baby happy are really developing skills they will need throughout their lifetime: Hand-eye coordination, facial recognition, differentiating emotions, etc.
Here are a few games to try next time you have the opportunity of interacting with an infant:
Ball Rolling - Simply sit on the floor (assuming infant can sit up) and roll a ball to the baby. The baby will probably not be able to return the ball to you until much practice. But, you can roll it to baby and then reach over and return it to you, then back to baby. All the time you can reinforce skills by saying what you're doing. Say something like, here comes the ball - Here goes the ball. Or, I'm rolling the ball. Any time you say what you are doing, the baby associates vocabulary with actions.
Dance to the music - Put on some music. Any kind of music will do, but classical selections such as Baby Mozart, etc. can be extra stimulating for parts of the baby's developing brain. Some studies have shown that listening to Mozart enhances math skills later in life. Move around, pick baby up and gently sway back and forth or let older baby put their feet on top of yours and dance on your feet to the music. Rock to the music. Rocking develops parts of the brain that establish balance and can be very comforting, so the baby will associate the music with comfort.
Sing to childhood songs - Remember the Itsy Bitsy Spider or I'm a Little Tea Pot? These songs are great to teach rhyme and rhythm. Add the hand motions to them, and you have your very own show.
Spy hunt - Go around the house with the baby and point to objects you see every day. When you point to it, say "That is a cup," or "That is a couch," etc. The more you identify sound with vision, the faster the child will recognize and begin to use language themselves.
Hands are amazing - Hands can be amazing tools to entertain and teach babies. You can make shadow puppets, form a bird or airplane and make them fly around. Something as simple as wiggling your fingers can mesmerize an infant. Pat-a-Cake is a great standby. This an be played with infants even too young to sit up as you move their hands together. Another great one is one that goes: "Round and round the garden" (as you take your finger and draw a circle on baby's belly), "goes the teddy bear, one step, two step - Tickle you under there" ... as you tickle the baby under their arm or on the belly.
Stuffed animals and toys come alive - Picking up a little stuffed animal or a toy and making it "talk" by changing your voice as you move the toy around can make a baby laugh and teach them about social interactions.
Keys - Of course, there's the old stand by of shaking keys for child to grab or watch. Just be careful if you have an electronic keychain that sets off a car alarm or could become damaged if slobbered on.
Sudden sound - Sometimes when an infant is crying, they can be distracted and calmed by a sudden funny sound. Most parents or babysitters come up with a unique sound on the sly out of desperation. But, silly little squeals or noises can quiet a crying baby and fascinate them as they might even attempt to copy the sound you make which is the beginning of speech.
There are countless other possibilities. Just be creative and know that what you are doing to entertain a baby is most likely doing so much more inside their developing brain.