In the third and final post of this three-part series, guest contributor Dr. Amanda Gummer, a research psychologist who specializes in child development, provides informational on babies and the importance of facial recognition, as well as ideas to use this as a way to play and interact. To read the first two posts in this series, check out Playful Parents: How to Build a Relationship Between You and Your Baby and Fun Faces: Helping Your Baby's Emotional Development. The following post is a collaboration between Dr. Gummer and Lamaze toys by TOMY.
Positioning toys is a great way to help your baby improve muscular strength, balance and coordination. At around two months old she will start being able to follow objects; holding a toy in front of her eye-line and slowly moving it side to side will strengthen neck muscles. Visually stimulating toys (with high contrasting patterns, e.g. black and white stripes) are particularly interesting for her to look at, while ‘noisy’ toys (e.g. rattles) can get her attention.
It’s not until three to four months that your baby will intentionally reach for a toy, and encouraging this is brilliant for strengthening arm and hand muscles, as well as improving depth perception. Babies will use their whole hand to grasp objects, so try holding an easily-to-grab soft toy near your baby (within her eye-line) and see if she reaches for it. When she repeatedly succeeds, move the toy to a different angle or further away to make it more challenging.
Tummy time has lots of benefits for your baby’s development. It strengthens the back and shoulders and, as your little one gets stronger, she will start pushing herself up; this is the first step towards crawling and helps develop her arm muscles. It’s not uncommon for babies to dislike tummy time, but interesting toys placed nearby can give them something to focus on. These need to be small enough to hold with one hand, so that your baby can use the other to support herself (and the action is less demanding on her core stability). Reaching for these toys strengthens the neck, arm and hand muscles, while also developing her hand-eye coordination. Play mats with colourful patterns and things to grab, touch and squeak will be fascinating for her too.
Play gyms can be good as well, if toys are positioned so that your baby can see them. Toys hanging from the arches can sometimes be too high up for babies to successfully grab them, but they can look at and reach for these toys. You can move the dangling toys to encourage your baby to look at them, strengthening her neck muscles.
At around four to seven months, babies can sit up independently, so can use both hands for holding and exploring objects. Now you can introduce larger toys to encourage the use of both hands, in order to strengthen the muscles equally. Toys of varying shapes will give your baby more to play with and think about - for example, a ball will be handled in a different way to a building block. She may also start to crawl or bum-shuffle, opening up a wider world to explore; try putting toys a little further away to get her moving around the room more.
Babies love to play and the more mobile they get, the more opportunities this gives them to investigate the interesting things around them. Toys are a great way to get your little one’s attention and encourage movement and physical development at each stage.
Dr. Amanda Gummer, Ph.D., Founder and CEO of Fundamentally Children. As a research psychologist specialising in child development, Amanda’s work spans corporate, government and charity sectors through which she promotes the value of play and positive parenting in child development to a variety of audiences. Her passion for play is illustrated in her book Play - fun ways to help your child thrive in the first 5 years, published by Vermillion in 2015.