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The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Infant Development (0-12months)

Play is serious business.

In a baby’s first year, their brain will double in size with more than 1 million new neural connections formed every second! But nature alone won’t stimulate this spectacular brain development. It is an infant’s experiences primarily that build the foundational structure of their brain, upon which all future learning depends.

Play engages your baby’s senses.

Babies learn through experience and observation and they use all their senses to explore and learn from their surroundings. Beyond their five senses, babies also need to develop the senses of body awareness and balance. It is therefore important that parents/caregivers spend time on the floor with them – rolling, crawling, climbing and cruising – helping them to move independently and build their sensory systems.

Play provides babies with the opportunity to experiment, discover, explore, practice and problem solve. Just like learners of all ages, as long as there is an interesting, engaging and fun question they will strive to find the answer.

The primary function of play at this stage is to lay a healthy foundation for skills your baby will learn later on. A baby’s attachment to his or her caregiver is the very basis upon which learning is built.

During this stage, activities might include:

  • Allowing your baby to touch and explore your face whilst talking to them. For an infant, experiencing this visual and auditory input will lay an important foundation for understanding language and expressing their wants and needs over the next few months.
  • Make faces, smile, and laugh, roll your eyes or poke out your tongue. Encourage your newborn to watch, imitate and study your face. A great time to do this is whilst changing their nappy.
  • Place a mirror above or in front of your baby- this is a great way to allow your baby to explore and develop movement, encourages social interaction, sense of self, as well as acting as a calming aid due to the presence of ‘another’ baby.
  • Peekaboo- this is a great game to teach the rhythm of social interaction as well as the concept of object permanence- the understanding that things don’t disappear just because we stop seeing them. As infants start to discover this principle, they’ll experiment by chucking things off their high chair and then leaning over to look for them for example.
  • Give your baby objects of varying textures to play with, for example, soft toys, rattles or cloth books. Feeling different objects assists your little one to discover the world.
  • Let your baby spend some awake time on his or her tummy to help strengthen the neck and shoulders. Always supervise your infant during “tummy time” and be ready to help if he or she gets tired or frustrated in this position. It is also best not to do this task post feed- nappy changing time may be another good time for this activity.
  • Could even add post nappy change is another good time.

Hold rattles or objects of interest in front of or above your baby to promote focus with their eyes, and ability to follow moving objects/people with their eyes. Other aids to encourage visual tracking are the use of a kick and play mat or nursery mobiles. It is important to note that an infant of this age is very short-sighted so just remember to stay within their field of vision: it’s still around 8-12 inches.

If you are concerned about your child’s development visit one of our qualified Occupational Therapists at Optimum Health Solutions. Optimum’s Occupational Therapists are client-centred health professionals who provide services for children through to adults, from 3-100 years +.

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