Am I doing enough for my baby?
Mental development for a growing baby, is by far, one of the most important things a parent must focus on.
Creating an emotional connection with your child is the most important aspect to develop a bond between a parent and a child. However, an emotional connection is more of an instinctual act, as it doesn’t necessarily have to be planned. It is more second nature. As far as the physical development of your baby, parents must set aside time and energy for this as well, yet there is a difference when speaking about mental development. For the simple fact that a baby’s physical advancements will develop, while corresponding with their age. Yes, a parent can work with their baby to help them crawl or walk, but there are some stages in which a baby’s body needs time to develop and grow to go to the next level, physically.
Back to the original statement, mental development of your baby is most important because everything starts with the knowledge the baby possesses. As the knowledge of your baby expands, so will their physical movements and emotional understanding.
Helping your baby not only gain understanding of themselves, but also their surroundings, will aid their growth emotionally as well as physically. In a simultaneous fashion.
As a parent, one can consistently push their child, to extend the boundaries of their mental awareness, whenever they choose. No matter the time of day, there is no limitation on time a parent can set aside to teach.
Although my wife and I have only recently become parents as of last year (our daughter tuning a year old next month), we have insisted, as a team, to put forth a maximum effort in in doing everything we can to allow my daughter to reach her full potential, mentally, and physical at each age of her development.
I personally have to tip my hat to my wife as she consistently reads up on many different studies, by professionals as well as everyday mothers, that have proven to be helpful tips to encourage our daughter to continuously develop.
I am fully aware that every baby is different. The rate and style in which our daughter learns, may not be best suited for another baby, and visa versa. I am writing this article because, no matter how a baby learns, these helpful learning tips/advice is generalized knowledge, which is validated, to help all babies in their development.
The information in this article is not information I made up on my own. This information is an accumulation of daily research from professional articles, studies, videos, as well as personal experiences. I am merely writing this to educate others, in the same way that others educated me through the parental journey.
Understanding the Information
Before I get into the tips, tricks, advice, and activities to help the development of your baby, I would first like to briefly give an overview about the following:
Motor skills- Helps parents understand their child’s development better.
Types of play- Styles of play that are created to directly help mold a baby’s psyche .
Wooden toys- Why professionals believe that they are more efficient for your baby’s development, over plastic toys.
With a bit of background information on these topics, everything will make just a little more sense later in the article, when I display the toys in which my daughter plays and why we specifically bought them for her.
As human beings, we all have motor skills. This is a function which involves our muscles to perform certain acts. Our intent is to perform these acts with precise movements, using the ability of “feel” or “sense”. For example, when speaking about motor skills, the components we associate with words such as power, balance, coordination, reaction time, agility, and speed. As adults, we can understand the measures in which we need to use our motor skills, however, for babies, they are just discovering them in their first few months, or even years, of their lives.
To break it down even more, motor skills are split into two subdivisions that are very important to know when understanding the development of your baby. They are called “Gross Motor Skills” and “Fine Motor Skills”.
Gross Motor Skills
These motor skills are the larger of the two subdivisions. These movements are the big actions. Such as when your baby moves his or her body, arms, legs, or feet. For babies, examples of these motor skills come when they lift their head, roll over, crawl, or even start to walk. These skills are so important for babies because the more they perform these actions the more they strengthen their body, but what it also does is build their confidence. The faster a baby can understand these skills, the faster they will be able to master more complex actions that deal with more movement and coordination, such as sports down the line.
Fine Motor Skills
These motor skills are the smaller of the two. They still use muscles and coordination, but in a more precise way. These skills deal with your baby using their hands/fingers. You won’t see these skills from your baby until they are able to turn that clenched fist, into an open hand. Examples of these skills are holding small items, picking up and dropping toys, moving an object from one hand to the other, or even trying to pick up their little snacks with their pointer finger and thumb.
Touch, hearing, balance, smell, and taste. These are all the senses that your baby will use, most likely, when they can finally open their small fists or reach for things. Certain activities will train and challenge your child to use their senses more and more, in hopes that they start to build nerve connections to the brain, while simultaneously building their confidence with their motor skills. Sensory play will also help your baby create their own problem solving techniques, while even learning language along the way in certain instances.
No matter if you are 2 months old, 30 years old, or 80 years old, everyone likes to have a sense of control. Well this type of play is just that. It is focused on play for babies that allow them to exercise “self-direction” or “self-choice”. This type of play gives your baby freedom to select or pick the type of activity that they desire instead of a parent, picking what they want their baby to do. What also makes this type of play effective in its own right is that your baby is allowed to “put it down” whenever they choose. The reason for this is to put more focus on the processes of the play and what they get out of it, instead of just focusing on the end. This style will hope to put less pressure on the child, hoping for more results because of this.
Plastic toys are cheaper, more fun for kids, and may occupy them for longer. Seems ideal for any parent to buy them over wooden toys. However, when you dig a bit deeper when comparing the two, you will realize that wooden toys have a tremendous amount of upside to mental development for your baby, over what they will get with plastic ones.
Here is why:
Wooden toys, in most cases, aren’t too fancy when it comes to their color patterns. They may have color on them, but nowhere near in comparison to most plastic toys. The reason for this is because babies will spend less time concentrating on the colors of the toy, and more time on the dynamic of the toy. This will free up more space in your child’s brain to be more creative, giving them more room to explore different things with the toy.
Have you ever given your baby an object, that wasn’t even a toy? Something as simple as a stick off a tree, a cardboard box, or even your wallet and they found that more entertaining than any of their toys? We have all experienced this as parents. This is because sometimes the more simple things to babies, will give them more an incentive to create their own imagination. Wooden toys tend to be more simplistic than plastic toys for a reason. Most creators want the child not to focus on all the gadgets that come with the toy, but appreciate the toy and create their own reality while playing with it.
By no means am I inferring that plastic toys are bad. My daughter owns many. The majority of plastic toys, kids love and some are very educational. However, a balance between wooden and plastic toys is necessary if you want to get the most out of your child. Some plastic toys have so many bells and whistles, which leaves no room for a baby to “figure out” things on their own. These types of toys rob children, for the fact that they “do everything” for the child already.
Every baby is different, this must be repeated. They all gravitate to different things, learn different ways, even the rate of development varies.
Below, I will display our daughter and the toys in which we have bought for her that help her development. While also, giving a brief recap on each individual object/activity and how it ties into the information I gave above.
Once Amiyah showed us that she could stand, while holding onto something, we bought her this wooden kitchen. It forced her to stand more often if she wanted to get the most out of playing with it. She is able to enjoy playing with the kitchen without even knowing that she is strengthening the muscles in her legs (gross motor skills), as well as building confidence and independence to play on her own, while standing. What we also realized is that, when my wife is cooking, Amiyah loves to be in the kitchen and watch her. Now I don’t think Amiyah will be cooking us any meals anytime soon, but by watching my wife cook, it allows her to see movements with similar objects in which she is able to mimic in with her miniature version.
Again, another toy made of 95% wood. We loved this activity box because it had two dynamics to it. She could work on developing her gross motor skills by standing (legs), and reaching with her arms. Or she could also indulge herself in the activities on the side of the box while sitting. No matter what route she decided to take, she is also working on her fine motor skills by using her hands and fingers with the small objects on the box that force her to grab them and move them in different ways. The more she played with this toy, the more she started to figure out how to use more precise movements, with her hands/fingers, to maximize her play.
It sounds redundant, but another toy that forced her to stand. And yes, this toy is actually plastic (I told you we don’t discriminate with toys). This was actually the first “standing toy” we purchased for her. This toy actually has a different dynamic to it than the other two. It will work both on her gross and fine motor skills, but its best quality is the “sensory play” aspect to it. With different activities on it, they all teach her different things in which she develops her senses.
My favorite has to be the “ball drop”. In the middle of the table, there is a hole in which she drops the ball in. Once the ball is dropped, it will roll out to one of the sides of the toy. Because of this, it teaches her cause and effect. One action will cause a reaction. The more she played with the toy, the more she learned that if she put the ball into the whole that she would receive it back and she could do this until she grew tired of it. Such a small activity, but such a significant idea that she will use it with other things around her.
Also on the play table there is a purple hippopotamus. When opening its mouth, it yells out “hello, goodbye, open, close”. While playing, Amiyah will learn these simple words from constantly hearing them while playing. Just like the colorful piano on the other side of the play table. Once she presses each key, the toy yells out the corresponding color, which words on her language, listening, and vision all at the same time.
**All of the standing toys we purchased for her have been paramount in her development to now stand and walk on her own at 11 months**
Initially when my wife ordered this, I was a bit confused about it myself, but she explained to me the research behind it and how it would teach her different things. Another wooden toy, the locks may seem random and confusing, however, babies will draw to it because it's different. They will sit there for hours trying to figure out how each of the different locks work and operate. We have had it for about a month now. Our daughter still doesn’t fully understand how to lock and unlock each section, yet, everyday she tries to figure it out and shows improvement with it the more she plays with it. As she gets more and more intrigued with figuring it out, she is activating her fine motor skills with the precise movements that are required to lock and unlock the sections. But also, working on her own problem solving techniques.
The animals and colors on the board also make it fun for her to look at and play with.
Although these aren’t considered toys, they fall under the same umbrella in her development. As crazy as it sounds, our daughter engages with her books more than she does any other toy she has. We put them in a place in which she can easily access them. She crawls over, grabs a book, and holds it out to us, pushing us to read it to her.
Some of the books are your normal baby books that have the basic words to read such as dadda, mama, colors, ect. Hearing these words constantly, of course, will help her language. However, the majority of the books we purchase for her are interactive books. She loves them. Some have little flaps in which she has to open up and see what is under. Other books have different textures on the pictures in which she touches on each page. And some even have buttons within the pages, that when pushed, make noises. Who knew books could work on fine motor skills, but also exhibit sensory play. I highly recommend interactive books for all children, not just babies. These types of books allow your child to feel as if they are more involved in the process of reading, instead of just sitting there, while being read too.
Interaction breeds curiosity.
Toys are not the end all be all for a baby to learn, yet they help tremendously. The correlation between the actions babies make and develop while playing with their toys vs performing other movements, outside of playing are direct.
When your baby works on his or her fine motor skills, using their hands and fingers, while playing with their toys, they will build the movements and confidence to pick up little objects, like their food. Or hold other objects such as their bottle when drinking their formula or milk. In result, this speeds up their independence and will allow them to practice self sufficiency at an early age.
While watching an interview with a professional that focused on the growth of children, I was pleased when I heard the speaker say, (paraphrased)
“Kids are chaos. Allow them to make messes and to be crazy because this is where they find themselves. This is when they discover things. Fueling their curiosity is what we must do as parents to allow our kids to be their true self”.
I wholeheartedly believe and agree with this statement.
In saying that, while you read this write up I’ve presented to you, I don’t want any parent to think that my wife and I don’t allow our daughter to do that (be wild and crazy at times; explore). We don’t record her every movement for research to make sure she is going to turn into the next Einstein. This is not the case at all. Our daughter might be one of the craziest babies I know, in a good way. We allow her to be free and independent. We allow her to explore as much as she wants, and be as creative as she wants in her own way. However, we know that by researching, and giving her the necessary tools to maximize her full potential, will not only help her now, but also in the future.
Some people think that babies are “just babies” and what they do now won’t have an effect on them in the future. Completely false. What you do now as a parent will play a role in how your child grows and perceives the things around them. A baby’s brain is a lot more complex than we give them credit for. They are learning everyday and developing at an accelerated rate, especially in the first year of their lives. As a parent, we must set them up for success any way we can.
Toys are babies' best friends. Why not have them around good influences, just like you would want them to have when they grow up.
For some simple, but great at-home activities parents can create on their own for baby development, check out these two Instagram pages (@babyplayhacks and @play_at_home_mommy). They are filled with everything you need to help challenge your child mentally, physically, but most importantly, while having fun doing it!
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