Harley is screaming ahead in her development. It seems that every day there is a new discovery, a new ability, a new goal. I want to do everything I can for my little one to develop, to help her reach her milestones and understand the world around her. I want to help her become a little genius, not just the savant kind that is only good at one thing – I want to help her become a balanced, brilliant, creative, free-thinking, kind human being. Of course it’s all conjecture about how to do that at this point, but here are some ideas for what helps little blobs develop into cool people.
This is a really important time for baby development. That first year of life is incredible if you think how much they accomplish. To go from crying, helpless blobs to tiny people who can play, get around and sort of communicate… it’s amazing! Because they are growing so much during this period, it’s important to work with them on motor skills, as well as social and mental development. At this point, physical stuff is still the most important as it’s how babies experience the world and understand everything from how their bodies work to how the world and physics work (yes, Harley knows that things drop now, even though she still enjoys testing it out).
During this stage, babies go from being pretty stuck to being pretty mobile. They will probably already be good at sitting, but reaching and eventually crawling and walking are all on the table during this period. I’ve been doing a variety of things to help Harley learn to crawl lately. It’s really important for a variety of reasons from midline crossing stuff to general muscle development. I still try to get her to do tummy time, although she has now learned how to get herself into a sitting pose from being on her tummy, so it’s not always possible. Instead, I will play with her with her toys, putting them just out of reach so that she has to sort of crawl or shimmy to get them. Most successful is when I get on the floor with her, crawling around to show her how it’s done.
Other movement stuff is to bounce her. Sitting on the couch or the floor, I will have her sit just above my knees, bouncing both my legs up and down, or alternating legs to give her a really bumpy ride. This is a lot of fun for both of us, and helps her develop her core muscles to keep her balance. When I feel like it, I will even do it to a song – either one I make up on the spot or whatever is in my head at the time. When I first started doing this, I’d let her hold my hands for balance and security, but now she’s pretty stable on her own and I just hold onto her legs for my own peace of mind.
Mixing things up sometimes, we also do wiggles and dances together. I will help her shake her whole body to music, or just to silly “wiggle wiggle” noises. Otherwise I will hold her hands and shake her body by pretty much helping her do the twist. It’s fun for both of us and usually results in her adorable and contagious laughter or giggles.
I also try to get an opportunity to swing her in a blanket or on a swing set – it’s so good for her sense of space and direction.
Finally, I’m doing baby led weaning, which means she gets plenty of practice with grasping her food, bringing it to her mouth and maneuvering it in order to swallow. It works to help us combine messy play with oral skills, plus it’s a method of learning to eat that minimizes the picky eater tendencies, and can be particularly effective with babies that might be inclined to be tactile defensive.
Social and Mental Skills
This one is still a bit weirder. She can’t talk yet, so it’s hard to really boost her social skills or know how much of the mental stuff is getting there. That said, we do play a lot of Peekaboo, which teaches her that something can still be there when you don’t see it, and that mommy might go away but always reappears. I also try to give names to her emotions – she might be excited to see Dean when we pick him up from work, or sad when I go out for a bit, or frustrated when I take her toy away so that she can eat dinner. Her emotions are allowed, of course, and I try to explain to her what she’s feeling so that she can one day understand.
I also always encourage her to say hi and bye, to understand the idea of greeting. She is sort of understanding the idea of a wave, or at least putting her hand up and out as salutation. More than that, I try to speak to her during the day, leaving space for her responses in the conversation. She obviously can’t speak yet, but I pretend that her babbles make sense, and respond in ways that at least keep me entertained… my favorite is when I gasp and pretend she has said something really terrible or funny about something.
Most importantly, I try to read to her every day. It’s part of our evening bath routine to help her go to sleep, and all the studies say that reading is one of the biggest indicators of imagination, learning and success as kids get older. By spending the time reading to her, cuddling as we enjoy a story together, Harley is learning to associate reading with love, affection and happiness. Plus, she is hearing the continuing lilt of conversation and sentence structure. Even if she doesn’t know it yet, her vocabulary is growing, her understanding of the world is expanding, and she is learning a plethora of stories.
The main thing to remember is that you have to find a way to engage with your baby that works for you. Everything from movement, music, conversation or messy play can help them. There is no right or wrong in this – the most important thing is to play with your baby, to have fun with her. If you’re doing that, you’re probably helping her to understand the world, to understand social interaction, and the rest will come naturally over time.