Learning, Play, and Your Newborn

Learning, Play, and Your  Newborn

Even at this young age, newborns are ready to learn about the world around them.  Play is the chief way that infants learn how to move, communicate, socialize, and understand their surroundings. And during the first month of life, your baby will learn by interacting with you.

The first thing your baby will learn is to associate the feel of your touch, the sound of your voice, and the sight of your face with getting his or her needs for comfort and food met. You can encourage your newborn to learn by stimulating your newborn’s senses in positive ways — with smiles, smoothing sounds, and gentle caresses.
During the first month of life, your newborn will spend much of the day sleeping or seeming drowsy. Over the next several weeks to months, your baby will mature and be awake or alert for longer periods of time.
It’s important to recognize when your baby is alert and ready to learn and play and when your little one would rather be left alone:
A baby who is quiet and alert will be attentive and responsive, and interested in surroundings.
A baby who is awake but active (squirming, flapping arms, or kicking legs) or fussing will be less able to focus on you. The baby may seem agitated or start to cry when you try to get his or her attention. These are signs that your baby may be getting overstimulated.
As you care for your newborn, he or she is learning to recognize your touch, the sound of your voice, and the sight of your face.
In the first few weeks you may want to introduce some simple, age-appropriate toys that appeal to the senses of sight, hearing, and touch, such as:  rattles, textured toys, musical toys, and unbreakable crib mirrors.
Try toys and mobiles with contrasting colors and patterns. Strong contrasts (such as red, white, and black), curves, and symmetry stimulate an infant’s developing vision. As vision improves and babies gain more control over their movements, they’ll interact more and more with their environment.
Here are some other ideas for encouraging your newborn to learn and play:
  • Put on soothing music and hold your baby, gently swaying to the tune.
  • Pick a soothing song or lullaby and softly sing it often to your baby. The familiarity of the sound and words will have a soothing effect, particularly during fussy times.
  •  Smile, stick out your tongue, and make other expressions for your infant to study, learn, and imitate.
  • Use a favorite toy for your newborn to focus on and follow, or shake a rattle for your infant to find.
  • 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. Never put an infant to sleep on his or her stomach — babies should sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
  • Talk to your baby.
Keep in mind that babies develop at different rates, and there is a wide range of normal development. If you have any concerns about your newborn’s ability to see or hear, or your baby doesn’t seem to be developing well in other ways, talk with your doctor. 
Printed with permission by KidsHealth.  KidsHealth is the most-visited site on the Web for information about health, behavior, and development from before birth through the teen years.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2015
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