DEVELOPMENT IN THE FIRST YEAR OF LIFE
The first year of a baby’s life is crammed full of development in all areas: sensory, gross motor, fine motor and language. Parents often find themselves wondering what they should be doing with their little ones to enhance these areas of development, so here is some information on what’s happening at each stage, and play ideas to go with them:
Birth to 3 months
Your little one has just come into the world, and is bombarded with so many new things: light, fluctuating temperature, noise, gravity and feeding. A full term infant’s sensory system is mature enough to cope with all these aspects by sleeping a lot of the time, but still has periods where he is unsettled and needs help adapting.
Newborns can detect motion, and have red and green colour vision. By 2 months, can track smooth pattern movements and discriminate colours. He may have a slight squint, which is due to immature muscles in his eyes – these develop as he learns to focus. Infants turn head or eyes towards sound source and respond better to higher frequencies. Repetition of sounds and longer duration of hearing them increases response. He prefers faces and stark contrasting patterns such as black and white
Your baby is learning to move against gravity, and waves his arms and legs around randomly, without purpose or coordination. His head is floppy, and he cannot keep it in one position
Crying is his way of communication for hunger, tiredness, dirty nappies, and discomfort
Your newborn will spend a lot of time sleeping. During his awake times (when he is calm and content), talk to him, as he will love looking at your face. Use mobiles for him to look at for quieter less-interactive activities. Those with black and white patterns work best for newborns. You can make simple mobiles by drawing black and white geometric patterns (such as chess board blocks, spirals etc). Nature’s own mobiles – trees, are wonderful as your little one is ready for more stimulation. Place a blanket on the grass under the trees, and let him look at the leaves moving. Any toys/objects with faces will fascinate him.
Watch for signs of overstimulation – grimacing, fixed stare, looking away. These are all signs that you need to stop the interaction, and help your little one settle in order to fall asleep.
In terms of motor development, give your newborn time to lie on a flat surface and move his arms and legs. Kicking his legs strengthens his tummy muscles, and moving his arms strengthens his shoulder girdle.
Tummy time is important in order to strengthen your baby’s back muscles, but your baby will only manage this on a flat surface from about 2 months onwards. Before this, carry him over your shoulder, or let him lie on your chest, lifting his head up to see your face.
As he gets stronger, you can place a towel under his shoulders to help him
You can place your baby in sitting on your lap, holding his body for support. This will help to strengthen his neck, as he holds his head up, and gives him a different perspective of the world. Try not to let your baby spend too much time in car seats/other devices, as this limits his ability to use his muscles.
Human faces, high contrast colours, soft sponge rattles, soft toys with interesting textures, play gyms with hanging toys to watch and swipe at, mobiles, mirrors
4 – 6 months
Once your baby reaches 4 months, his stomach and back muscles are stronger, which provides a stable core for him to move his arms and legs with more coordination. He will try and reach for things hanging above him with his hands, and he will try and kick things with his legs. A favourite pastime at around 5 months is bringing his feet to his hands, and his toes to his mouth to chew! He may start rolling during this period, so watch him on higher surfaces.
At around 6 months old, your baby will start to sit for brief periods on his own, or will be close to doing this. Once he starts to do this, his hands will not be very useful, as he will need them to prop. He will therefore prefer to play lying down still.
He will start to bring objects to his mouth, such as rattles, and will be able to grasp heavier objects. By about 6 months, he will be able to shake a rattle
From a language point of view, he may start to blow bubbles, and is starting to learn the ‘musical’ sounds of speech from your talking to him.
By now, your baby can distinguish different colours, so you can provide a variety of interesting things for him to look at. Different textures are also important – and you can use things around the house – rough, smooth, soft, hard, crinkly etc
He will be able to distinguish where sounds are coming from as well, so you can sing to him, play music to him, and comment on sounds that you hear.
Talk to your baby a lot! Use lots of expression in your speech, and let him see your face. A baby learns language through imitation. Copy the sounds he makes, which will encourage him to make them again and again – practicing his language abilities. You can use simple soft books to show him at around 6 months – with bright, simple pictures.
Let your baby spend lots of time lying on his back and tummy, strengthening these muscles. Encourage him to bring his feet to his hands to expore his toes, which will strengthen his tummy muscles as he does this on his own:
If he is not rolling, instead of placing him on his back and tummy, roll him into these positions,
From about 4 months, let your baby sit on your lap more. This will help strengthen the muscles in his neck as he looks around. Once he is ready, place him on a blanket in sitting, and hold him gently at his hips. Once he can sit alone, just put cushions around him in case he falls. Again, limit the amount of time he spends in ‘seating’ devices – these do not encourage any activity.
Even though he cannot stand on his own, it is still important to use the standing position, to expose your baby to it, as well as to active the muscles around his pelvis. Hold him in standing on the floor/your lap for brief periods.
Play gyms with hanging toys to grasp and kick. Rattles to chew and shake. Textured toys, and toys that make a noise when shaken, or touched. Try and limit electronic toys, as these don’t encourage as much exploration.
7 -9 months
Your baby will be sitting on his own at this stage, and really trying to explore his world. Depending on when he started sitting, he may be trying to start moving onto all fours to get ready for crawling.
His sight is excellent by now, as his head control has improved, and he is able to control his vision. He can see almost as well as an adult, and will enjoy looking at new objects, shapes and colours.
From a language point of view, he will enjoy taking turns – in imitation of a conversation. He will wait for you to say something, and then respond with his own sounds. He may also be able to imitate simple sounds. He can connect ideas with sounds – e.g. ‘milk’ means a bottle is on its way.
Your baby will now be able to use his hands well in all positions, to grasp things and bring them to his mouth. Provide a variety of textures, shapes, and sizes of toys/objects for him to explore. Packing and unpacking objects will be fun for your baby, and will help to develop his senses further by learning how objects relate to each other. Containers with simple things inside are great for this. Your baby will love bath time, which is a wonderful sensory experience.
He will start trying to move from sitting to reach for toys further away, so place things around him to encourage this.
Your 9 month old is getting ready to move (or may have already started). Once he starts rocking backwards and forwards on all fours, he is about to start crawling. You can use toys which move (e,g, something on a string/wheels), to encourage him to go after it.
Let your baby stand at low surfaces (give him some support to start with). This will help develop his function in standing.
Research shows that reading to children from a young age results in increased vocabulary and language. Simple picture books are great for this age – bold, bright pictures e.g of animals, that your baby is able to relate to and point out are wonderful.
Blocks to pack and unpack; toys with different textures and shapes to explore; simple musical toys to shake and bang, moving toys to follow
10 -12 months
From a sensory point of view, your child’s movement (i.e. crawling and walking) plays an enormous role. Your child’s movement through space, and in relation to other objects (e.g. under tables, squeezing between furniture) teaches him about his body in space. The movement also allows him to explore so much more.
He will most likely be crawling or getting ready to crawl at this stage, can stand at a low surface, and possibly cruise along, and may be taking his first steps. With this increase in gross motor ability, his muscles have strengthened, and enhanced his fine motor ability (the function of his hands, eyes and mouth), which allows him to explore objects more intricately, and use more mature grips (i.e. gripping between his thumb and first finger to pick up tiny objects)
He may have around 2 – 12 words in his vocabulary e.g. mama and dada etc, and can recognize a huge variety of words
Let your baby play on different surfaces – e.g. grass, carpets, tiles to expose him to different textures. Sandpits are wonderful as well, and provide so much sensory input. Packing and unpacking objects is still great fun, and you can challenge your baby by giving him different sized containers, and smaller holes to place things in. Use bathtime to teach your child to pour things, splash around, and have a wonderful sensory experience.
Banging objects is a great pastime for this age – you can make him a drum using a cardboard box or pot and wooden spoon. Objects of different sizes may be given to him to explore, so that he has to use different grips to handle them.
Encourage your crawling baby to climb in and out of things like tubs, and boxes, and crawl over things e.g cushions, and up and down stairs.
Encourage your baby to stand at a surface, and if he is not cruising already, move toys along, encouraging him to follow. If he has not taken his first steps, walk with him, holding both hands, progressing to holding one hand, which will challenge him further. You can also use a wooden trolley filled with blocks/weighed down with books for his to push along to teach him how to step on his own, with some support. As he gets stronger, take some of the weight out of it so that he has to control the trolley.
Imitate the sounds your baby makes, which will encourage him to make them again. Show him what you see around you, and name things so that he learns what they are. Books are a wonderful way to teach your child language – name the pictures you see, and let him try and point things out to you.
Banging toys, simple puzzles, containers for packing and unpacking, toys to imitate household activities e.g. broom, telephone; trolley to push, books
Some do’s and don’t’s
Walking rings and jolly jumpers are discouraged – they do not encourage your baby to use his muscles.
Try and steer away from electronic toys, which provide instant gratification at the push of a button, but do not encourage much exploration, and teach your child to expect something to happen with each toy he is given, rather than him finding different uses for the toy.
The American Academy of pediatrics discourages the use of screens (TV, ipad, cell phone) with children under the age of 2 years. After 2 years, any screen time should be limited to a maximum of 1 hour per day. Rather use books as an alternative – the bonus is that you will be extending your child’s vocabulary and language abilities, and research has shown that reading to your child has a positive effect on attachment.
We hope you found this information useful! Enjoy your little 0 -1 year old, and keep a look out for the next post on the 1 – 2 year old.
The Brightbeans Team