The 3 most important activities to stimulate your baby’s development

April 15, 2013 · 6 comments

stimulating baby's developmentI read a fascinating article in Slate the other day about cultural differences in how we raise babies.

Researchers asked parents around the world what was most beneficial for baby’s development, and Americans almost universally answered “intellectual stimulation”.

I bought into this idea as a new parent, and my first child had a large collection of brain-developing toys that I showed him every day. My second one had fewer, but my third has none.

Why?

Since I was introduced to RIE, I learned children are self-motivated. They develop at their own pace, and can be trusted. All parents need to provide is a safe environment with simple opportunities, and then step back and observe. Extra stimulation is unnecessary.

Yet we still have a strong desire to “do” stuff (at least I do!).

So as a RIE parent who wants to step back, trust my child, and give them space to develop at the perfect time for them, what can I “do”?

1. Observe

My favorite quote from Magda Gerber is, “Do less, observe more, enjoy most”.  Instead of spending time dangling toys in front of baby or trying to get their attention on a particular object, provide a few simple toys (bowls, cups, balls), and watch them explore. Even a baby who is not mobile will look intently at different things. It opens up a magical world when you watch your baby closely to see what they’re interested in.

2. Narrate

When my baby is struggling to do something, she will look at me. So I talk to her. “I see you’re trying to touch that ball, but it’s just out of reach. You can see it just past your fingers.” And as she wiggles to get it, I talk about what she’s doing. When she gets it, I say, “you got the ball in your hand”. I don’t talk all the time, because sometimes I see her concentrating and I don’t want to interfere. But narration puts words to actions and also lets her know I see what she’s doing and that it’s important to me.

3. Put white space on your calendar

I recently moved back to San Diego after three years living in a small rural town, and I’m overwhelmed by the interesting activities we can do. There are fairs and museums and friends and hikes and shopping and parks and everything is designed to capture your child’s attention and enrich their developing mind. It’s hard to say no, but I think saying no is crucial to development. Make time to do nothing. Make time to be quiet. Make time to talk to each other without being entertained and bombarded with information, no matter how interesting and educational it might be. In our fast-paced world, doing nothing is an activity that needs to be sought out and made a priority, just like any other activity you schedule on the calendar.

Activities with your baby don’t need to be things to be fancy, colorful, or loud. Quiet moments allow baby to seek out what’s interesting to them, and allow you to see baby for who they are.

These suggestions may not seem like “activities” to some people, but try them for your baby — you might be surprised at what you see.

Photo credit: futurestreet on Flickr

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jessica Smock April 15, 2013

That’s such a practical and lovely way of describing how to interact with your baby. Now that my son is almost two, and is a tornado of energy (running, screaming, charging, jumping, climbing), I miss those quiet moments of sitting and looking at new things with a baby. They love to hear your voice and we would just sit there — on the bed, in a field, on the floor — and have “conversations” about what we saw.

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2 Suchada @ Mama Eve April 17, 2013

I miss those quiet moments with my boys, too (they’re 4 1/2 and 3 now), so I seize them whenever I can. This morning they found a dead moth in the garage, and we put it on a piece of paper and studied it for a while. It’s a rare moment when they’re sitting still, but those are as precious to me as those early cuddles.

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3 Brandi Moore April 16, 2013

I love the way you talked about RIE here – SIMPLE explanation for a SIMPLE thing to do!! Its so clear. I find myself at times trying to explain what I am doing and I get dumbfounded responses like “really?”

Yes really!

I also hear what you are saying about balancing activities. Living in NYC there is so much to do…but there is also so much to be gained from having some quiet time at home.

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4 Suchada @ Mama Eve April 17, 2013

I can imagine it’s a challenge to say “no” in NYC! There would be so many things I would love to see and do there. Good for you for taking a step back and enjoying some quiet in such a bustling city. :)

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5 Sheila Burke April 17, 2013

One of the greatest intellectual achievements of our lives is accomplished before we are two years old, that is learning a language. Babies can learn lots of facts and from the facts they’ll intuit the rules. I taught my daughter to read before she was a year old (she couldn’t talk but she could point at the words). When she was two and could speak, she amazed people identifying all the animals in deck of “endangered animals of the world” cards. I learned how and why to teach babies in the book How To Teach Your Baby to Read.

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6 Suchada @ Mama Eve April 17, 2013

I agree that babies can learn a staggering amount of information at almost any age. When my first son was a baby, I thought I would do something similar. However, I found we didn’t like it, and the more I learn about babies, the more I dislike the idea that we need to seize these early years to make our children “smarter”. My biggest problem with it is it’s based on the assumption our babies are empty vessels simply waiting to be filled. But if we watch them closely we can see they are already full — they have their own interests, their own desires, and their own needs — which I think deserve to be encouraged.

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