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Encouraging development through play in the early days

By the age of four weeks most babies are happy to amuse themselves for short periods after they have fed. At this stage the thing your baby will love most is to listen to your voice and study your face. When he is awake, get him used to sitting in his chair for short periods; as long as he knows you are close enough, he should not become fretful. During the first four weeks, when your baby is awake, encourage him to become familiar with his nursery and a few different toys, However, do not overstimulate him with too many toys at this age.

  • Babies gradually 'uncurl' during the first month and you should encourage your baby regularly to spend 10-15 minutes under the playgym. Prop black and white or brightly coloured books, especially ones with faces on them, around the pram or cot when he is awake. Some baby books have bold contrasting pictures in black, white and red on one side and a wider variety of colours and pictures on the reverse, which means they will be useful for several months as your baby's fine vision improves.
  • Before the bath, and in a warm room, remove your baby's clothes and nappy. Then lay him on a changing mat on the floor, with some brightly coloured toys or books to look at, so he can have a good kick.
  • By the end of the first month you may hear your baby make small cooing sounds, Encourage him to vocalise more by repeating the sound back to him. This is a very early stage in making conversation. He may also try to imitate your facial movements when you hold him close and talk to him by opening and closing his mouth. Encourage this by pausing to give him time to 'reply' to you.
  • By the third or fourth week your baby may enjoy looking at a musical cot mobile. Some of these are angled so that the objects appear and disappear from his range of vision, encouraging him to track them with his eyes. If your baby seems upset by the music and movement, wait another week or so. Just let him look at the objects hanging above him without the sound and movement.
  • Your baby will enjoy a brightly coloured rattle shaken gently above him or to one side. This too will encourage him to move his head to see where the sound is coming from.

By six to eight weeks, your baby will start to show a greater interest in his playgym and musical mobile and he will also enjoy rattles. Other toys he may now like to watch are simple pop-up puppets on sticks. The animal, such as a frog or rabbit, remains hidden in the cone until the stick is pulled and it suddenly appears.

There are plenty of soft books that have different textures and noises for your baby to enjoy. Also look at some of the board and paperback books aimed at babies slightly older than yours. Provided the pictures are simple and colourful he will enjoy looking at them with you. Borrow some very young picture books from the library and start to read him stories. It doesn't matter if your baby does not understand everything as he will enjoy the sound of your voice and the closeness of sitting with you.

Using his hands

By the end of the second month your baby will have become much more aware of his hands and fingers and there are several ways in which you can encourage this new interest:

  • Play finger games such as 'This Little Piggy' with him.
  • Encourage him to begin to grasp small soft toys, especially textured ones. You can find animals such as toy spiders with different materials used for each leg, Soft bricks can also be found with each side made from a different fabric. Make your baby aware of these by stroking them across his palms and the backs of his hands, telling him 'This is soft', 'This is fluffy', as you let him experience the different textures.
  • By the end of two months your baby should be able to briefly hold on to a small rattle when put into his hand. His grasp reflex is beginning to disappear but he will be able to hold on for a short while. The best rattles to use are the small soft ones that have a ring topped with the head of a teddy or other animal. The ring needs to be small enough for the baby to get his palm around it. Small, light, plastic ring-type rattles can also be good for a baby of this age.
  • Spending time under his playgym will encourage your baby to start batting at the toys hanging down. From around six weeks he may get an occasional hit, but his movements will still be quite uncoordinated.

Music and sounds

Your baby may now have favourite songs that you sing, and he may be calmed by certain pieces of music

  • Continue to encourage his hearing by getting him to listen to wind chimes, ticking clocks, bells and even sounds such as the wind in the trees. Drawing his attention to different sounds and noises will help widen his experience of the world and make him more aware
  • You may like to have a radio or some music playing in the background during the day, especially if you are on your own with the baby but do try to have quiet times when you switch them off. Encourage your baby to hold longer conversations with you now he can make sounds. You will be more aware of the sounds that he is trying to make if there is no noise in the background.

Taken from The Contented Baby's First Year


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