From six weeks or so your baby will be looking around, responding and smiling. Then it isn’t long before he wants to actively engage and interact with his environment. He wants to touch, taste and handle objects and textures – and is no longer happy to be a spectator only.
Any time from three months on, your baby will start reaching out to clasp an object. Now you can begin to hold a simple rattle in front of him and patiently wait for him to bring his hands together to hold it. The next natural progression is for everything he can hold to go into his mouth. Apart from the ongoing singing and talking and reading that you can do from his earliest days, there will be times when babies will just enjoy watching what’s going on and taking in all the sights and sounds.
There’s a host of toys in shops beckoning you – and most parents are keen to assist and accelerate learning. But before you shop, consider the amazing playground that you have at home. With a bit of thought you can provide a wonderfully stimulating and enjoyable environment, without dipping too deeply into your purse. Mobiles, black and white story books, coloured crinkly paper, and a mural on their wall are all good for stimulating this interest.
What do babies between three and six months really need?
Books, talk, exercise and company
This is a great time to start reading to your baby. Lots of parents of older children remember that reading to their baby had great results – the same child grew to love books and love reading. Simple board books are ideal. Invent the story as you turn to each page. Point to objects as you go. You can make your own book by cutting pictures up and sticking them into a clear file. One of the real advantages of making your own toys and books is that you model resourcefulness and creativity.
Talk, talk talk
Talk to them and with them. You can act like a commentator and describe what you are doing as you do it. Babies love your voice – it’s soothing. The intonation of your voice and your speech patterns will fascinate your baby. Read your own book aloud to your baby – they will enjoy the sound and rhythm of your voice.
Sing to your baby, he could be the only person who enjoys your singing so indulge in this while they are still so appreciative!
Get close to your baby
Your face and loving eye contact reassure your baby. As you smile and show your delight, your baby responds. Imitate their sounds – it reinforces their effort and encourages them to continue to make sounds and express themselves. Babies love pictures of faces – and will respond to realistic doll faces.
When you move around the house sorting or completing chores, move your baby with you. New surroundings will be interesting – different smells, new wallpaper and curtains to look at. Place them near the bedspread so they can see the patterns, or in front of a full-length mirror. Prop your baby up with cushions – they love looking at themselves and at new things on a new level.
Take your baby outside
Take your baby outside and lie them down on a rug in the shade. Their senses will be stimulated by the new colours, shades, light and smells. Babies love to have nappy-free time so let them enjoy this time without their nappy and just lie them on a towel.
Tummy time is great for babies
They develop strength and, little by little, your baby will master holding his head up. Some babies are not so keen on this – so lie with them and put interesting things around them like board books and birthday cards so that they can look up. Your baby will love looking at himself in a mirror while lying on his tummy.
Your fun is portable! Stuck in traffic in the car, queuing at the supermarket or waiting at the swimming pool for an older child’s lesson to finish, are all times to interact with your baby. Sing, rock, read, play peekaboo or ‘this little piggy’. Every parent needs a few favourite songs that get pulled out to soothe and distract – You Are My Sunshine is a great one to tuck away.
Create a toy box
Your toy box does not need to be posh but it should be full of variety. Babies want to hold, drop, bang, mouth, scrunch, shake and gaze. Do a quick safely test on toys and objects. Nothing smaller than a golf ball should be given to a baby – it is too small and babies are wired to mouth everything that comes their way.
Use the inner roll from your grease-proof paper, a hand whisk, an egg carton, some lids with cotton reels glued on, so baby can grasp and bang together. Add some macaroni to a plastic jar for shaking, or some scrunchy paper and plastic items from your recycling. It really helps if you show your baby what to do with the item. Watch them imitate you!
One of the best things you can offer your baby is the loving atmosphere you create while doing these things together. Loving yourself enables you to love your baby and be available and attentive to them. Remember it’s often the simple things that matter. What babies really thrive on is warmth and affection, calming tones, songs and stories, new things to look at each day, time in your company and regular rituals including games, stories and rhymes.
Checklist for keeping baby entertained
- Pot cupboards – have one cupboard in the kitchen that you are happy to have your baby access. Pots and lids, plastic containers, jugs, squeezy bottles
- Dance to upbeat music with your baby. Sing along, offer rhymes and jingles
- Tummy time – with interesting pictures to look at
- Regular library visits
- Lots of conversational talk
- Action songs such as Row Row Row Your Boat, This Little Piggy, Round and Round the Garden
Like a Teddy Bear
- Outdoor rug time – nappy-free time!
- Lots of opportunities to visit different rooms in your house
- Generous amounts of gentle physical touch – bouncing, swinging, massaging, tickling, cuddling, raspberry blowing
Attend a Toolbox parenting course
Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.