Slowing Things Down.
Think about the last time you went out to eat at a noisy restaurant. Were you able to maintain the conversation despite all the noise? Our capacity to screen out distractions like loud noise varies from person-to-person as well as from day-to-day. Unlike most adults, babies are just developing the capacity to block out background stimulation (especially in new environments!) like loud chatter, bright lights and yummy smells... all the things we find at a busy restaurant. Often your baby will respond to feelings of over-stimulation by either fussing or checking-out early AKA going to sleep.
With early brain development, supporting your baby's attention will affect things like how he/she is able to later sit in the classroom, focus on a work deadline, and of course, enjoy dining at noisy restaurants.
Here are a few toy tips you can do to help your baby pay attention:
1. Follow my lead. This means, first give me time to explore a new toy at my own pace and in my own way. Then show me what it does. For a young baby, try letting me put a rattle in my mouth to get a feel for it before showing me how to shake it. Remember, at a young age I am not as easily bored by simple toys. And I may prefer to take them in visually or by touching before I become a rattle shaking machine.
2. Toys matter, but sheer number matters much less than variety. What does this look like? Rotate toys every week or so for variety and put the other ones out of my sight (so I am not distracted). This allows me time to gain mastery in my play with a particular toy.
3. Toys matter, but not as much as you matter. Your play with me is far more enriching than if I were playing alone with the toy.
4. Pick toys you like too. Let's face it, even as adults we have preferences (auditory, visual etc.). As a parent, pick toys you find appealing. This will make playtime more fun for both of us.
5. Only give me one or two toys at a time; too many and I may loose focus.
6. New experiences (literally) grow my brain. Don't let these tips for playtime stop you from taking me out to new places. Expose me to other places & people; go to the zoo, walk around museums, and go to story time. Just know that if I am fussy or I go right to sleep and I am not tired, hungry, or uncomfortable... I may be coping with feelings of over-stimulation.
7. Most important, let's have fun!
Growing up in the hot and humid summers of Washington DC, we went to the pool almost every day. By age 4, I was enrolled in my first swim lesson. Today, we hear about babies getting in the pool for formal swim classes as young as 2 months! Does this trend have any benefits to infant development?
A few months ago, I accompanied my sister and 6 month old niece to a parent-baby swim class at La Petit Baleen (LPB has pools throughout the Bay Area that are specifically for teaching kids to swim). My purpose in going was two-fold: 1) to spend time with my adorable niece 2) I wondered if I would be able to ‘see’ with my own eyes how the swimming impacted her behavior.
I have some notion that swimming supports development. While working in Early Start, I saw the positive effects of aqua therapy on a client diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. I had also read about the benefits of swimming on infant brain development for the general population; developmental specialists argue and parents attest that swimming can help babies to crawl earlier, sleep better, and gain weight. Like many, I wondered, how is this true? What kind of magic happens in the pool?
Here were my observations:
The environment was full of stimulation: bright lights, different noises, and oh the smell of a pool! At the beginning of class, my sister brought my niece slowly into the water. She communicated a mix of excitement and anxiety in her body & face: tightened arms and legs, furrowed brow, and wide eyes. ‘I’m not so sure about this!’
The class began with a welcome song for the returning students. As the familiar song started, I could see my niece begin to relax, as if the song’s rhythm and tone rang, ‘it’s okay, you remember, this will be fun!’ The tension in my niece's body slowly began to fade.
During the course of the 30-minute class, my niece practiced a ton of new swim skills, even full submersions (babies have a natural reflex that allows them to not breathe in water)! My favorite was the tunnel activity where she was separated from mom and then reunited on the other side- 'Mommy! It is you! Look what I’ve done!’
Throughout the class new developmental activities were introduced: kicking (bilateral motor movement- excellent for motor development); movement in water without constraints of gravity, similar to what babies experience in the womb (proprioceptive & vestibular sensory development); and separation and reunions with mom (social-emotional development). The most observable impact to my niece's behavior, however, came after the class was over when she emerged from the pool and began to babble and string syllables together. (I later read that speech therapists will use pools prior to therapy to get this same effect). Critical to all of this was that my niece was challenged just enough to feel confident and competent in practicing her new skills.
My niece's swim class was a rich nuero-sensory experience, paired with the positive emotions elicited from interactions with mom. What neurologists would call a key cocktail for learning new skills and brain growth. I was so impressed with what I observed, I have since decided to go back and learn more about how swimming can be used for developmental interventions. I hope to write about my experiences at LPB again soon!
For more information about LPB and their classes check out their website