Infant Games Grows Brains
One of the fascinating facts about brain development is that as far as the brain is concerned, we are all born premature. Even though we are born with 100 billion nerve cells, they are not yet connected in networks. At birth, our organs and muscles are completely developed, although smaller than they will be, but our brain is only about one-fifth its final size.
In the beginning, we start making connection using our sensory system. For example, the infant begins to put together the combination of a particular face, the taste of milk, the feel of her body and her voice and scent to mean mama or main caregiver. Another combination of sensations means dad, or that rambunctious older brother, or the dog. So, little by little, experience-by-experience, pathway patterns are formed that describe the world.
The new news, relatively hot off the neuroscience press, is that all experiences are not created equal. They do not all lay down new pathways. Some experiences don’t change the brain at all while others make big changes. The deciding factor of whether the experience is going to lead to a bigger brain is (drum roll, please)…….Joy! Kids’ brains grow when engaged in playful, engaging activities.
If children are enjoying the experience in an activity that engages them and excites their imagination, it supports healthy brain development and maximizes learning. It makes sense: paying attention is a necessary ingredient for learning and children naturally attend to an activity when it is interesting, fun and meaningful.
The sad news is that synapses that are not activated progressively wither over time. Those 100 billion cells get pruned away through the “use it or lose it” principle. You can see why early experience plays such a crucial role in “wiring” a young child’s brain and why programs such as Head Start and Early Intervention Therapy were started.
Babies with strong, positive, emotional bonds to their caregivers and enjoyable playful experiences in their lives show consistently lower levels of cortisol in their brains.
Play is essential to a child’s development and children like to play. It is what they do and how they learn
We parents are in the prime position to continue to enlarge our children’s brains through play. But, with work and other obligations, and especially if we weren’t played with as children by our parents, it may feel that we don’t have the time or knowledge to add “playtime” to our over-burdened schedules.
These game ideas in this article hope to show you that we don’t need a lot of time or special equipment and that we all have a sense of play within us. The suggestions below will feel do-able and can be done with a “moment here, a moment there” and with no more materials than a good mood.
Try out some of these ideas for a spontaneous game with your infant or let them inspire you to do others. Your babies will think they are just having fun, but you’ll know they are making new synaptic connections!
Even as young as 3 months, infants can play the tongue game. When you have their attention, stick your tongue out. It may be rude in some circumstances, but, to an infant, it is fascinating. It’s kind of like having an interesting snake in your mouth that pops out. You’ll find that often baby will imitate you which means, not only did they figure out which body part you used, but also how to move it. Once they can do that, add variations such as moving your tongue side to side or up and down. This tongue control will serve your child well when they start to form words.
Babies first need to learn who is in their world (mom, sis, dog, etc) and next, they need to learn what. Take your infant for a tour of the house and introduce the various things. “This is a table” “This is the door—it opens and closes” and so on. Don’t worry that your baby is too small to understand, they are absorbing the information and enjoying being the focus of attention with the one they love.
Don’t forget to do an outdoor tour. Besides inserting knowledge, showing an infant a flower or a leaf is a great way to distract them from a fussy moment.
When you are changing a diaper (and when aren’t you changing a diaper!), sing a song! Sing a song about what you are doing and use whatever tune strikes your fancy. For example, if you use the tune for “Frera Jacque”, you might sing:
If nothing else, singing will get you in a good mood!
Ice Cube Fun
Placing an ice cube on baby’s high chair tray can be fascinating fun as she chases it around and tries to pick it up.
It can be a great activity to keep baby occupied while you get the dishes washed.
But, of course, as with all infant activities, stay observant. You want that ice cube to be replaced with a bigger one before it gets small enough to swallow.
Toilet Tube Magic
At first, babies think things appear and disappear so here is a simple game to show them that things still exist even though it might look like it is out of sight. And it’s always nice to find a use for a toilet tube roll.
Place a small object into the tube and make a big deal about wondering where it went. She may look inside the tube and later figure out to pick it up and find the object underneath. Add to the challenge by using a paper towel tube!
In essence, we parents are in the position to participate in our children’s mental growth and by playing games, we also let them know that we love them so much that we take the time to play with them.
Barbara Sher M.A.,O.T.R, an occupational therapist and author of nine books on children’s games. This game is adapted from Barbara’s new book THE WHOLE SPECTRUM OF MOTOR, SOCIAL AND SENSORY GAMES: Using Children’s Natural Love of Play to Enhance Key Skills and Promote Inclusion. Check out Barbara’s other game books at any on-line bookstore or get a free game designed for your child at her web site: www.gameslady.com
- Brain Games for the Season
- Organizing Your Child’s Brain Through Crawling and Creeping
- Top-Five Brain Boosting Foods for Children with Learning Disabilities
- The Gut-Brain Connection and Children with Special Needs
- Can You Open Your Ears to Train Your Brain?
- Judgment and the Teenage Brain
- Feeding the Hungry Brain With Music
- How Playing an Instrument Benefits Your Brain
Visit us at: www.facebook.com
This post originally appeared on our March/April 2014 Magazine