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Monday, February 11, 2013

How do you play with a Newborn?

Newborns are funny things. They sleep a lot, smile for no apparent reason, always want to eat when they're awake and don't really seem too interested in all those toys you bought. So when I went to leave for a doctor appointment a couple weeks ago and my husband was helplessly asking, "What do I do with her if she wakes up?", my response was a shrug and a pretty vague answer: "You know, you just do baby things. Things that babies like." Now I know that this is a awfully bad answer, especially to give my poor husband, but I was running late and didn't have time to go into all the wonderful things that you can do with a baby this small.

Babies don't have a very good attention span, and they are over-stimulated easily, so the best games are small and simple ones that don't have constant noise or too many different objects. Flash carding your little one their ABC's may seem like a good idea, but the constant flipping is likely to make them fussy. A few letters might be fine, but if you plan on running through the whole alphabet, you're going to overstimulate, and that leads to crying. Here are just a few games that anyone can play:

Draw-A-Letter: This is a good one for if your baby can hold their head up. Put the baby on your lap and sit at a table. Show them how you draw a letter with one hand. Talk about the letter in quiet tones as you draw it slowly. Is it a big letter? What part of the alphabet is it in? What sorts of words start with this letter? Is it a letter in someone's name? Let the baby grab the crayon you drew it with. She or he won't start drawing for a while, but it gives them something to curl their little fingers around while you hold the letter up for them to view and continue talking about it.

Songs: Baby will listen to you sing for a long time if you are willing to sing. Babies love the sound of their parents' voices and the soothing tones of a song may even lull them back to sleep. Try to pick a "set" of songs that you will always sing. For my children I sing the ABC song, followed by Jesus Loves Me, then Silver & Gold. When my son got older and would fuss while we were in public, I would always sing them very softly in his ear and he would quiet down immediately, so this is one of those "games" that has long-term benefits.

Reading: Now I have actually read a study that reading to a newborn will increase their intelligence as they grow older. I did this with one of my younger brothers, who is testing at the true genius level, and with my son, who has been speaking about marine life in terms like "orca" or "bottlenose" since he was one. This doesn't guarantee that it works of course, but it does provide quiet stimulation for baby while allowing them to hear your voice, which they love. And if it does work and you end up with a brilliant child on your hands, you won't be sorry! (Until they outsmart you that is.) Baby won't pay attention to this game for very long of course, and may even fall asleep! When they become disinterested, move to a different game or see if they are ready for a nap.

Rhythym Game: Play a song and clap your baby's hands together on the beats. Baby's hands probably won't open, but you can move them towards each other all the same. Sing along with the music and smile at your baby while you do this. Babies love to look into mommy or daddy's eyes, so this face to face time is a treat for them!

Silly Faces: Watch your baby and the faces he or she makes. As your baby makes faces, change your face so that you are making the same ones. If your baby puckers her lips, pucker yours. If he hiccups, fake a hiccup. Mirroring your baby will not only entertain them, it will help them with learning to control their own facial expressions. Be sure to throw in lots of funny sounds and smiles!

Tummy Time: This seems like a no-brainer, but many parents don't bother to put their child down when trying to entertain them. Baby needs time on his tummy to learn to hold his head up and push around with his feet. These are the pre-cursors to being able to scoot and roll, which is something that all parents want to see their babies do at some point! While I don't advise doing these activities to "speed up" baby's development (all babies develop on their own sweet time), I do recommend doing them to help baby build the muscles she needs to be able to attempt the activities when she's good and ready.

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