Henry will be 6 months old this week. I often worry that I'm not stimulating him enough. I want to do everything I can to ensure that he has optimal development and grows up in the best environment as possible. I put pressure on myself to do everything "right," and am pretty sure I'm not the only mom who's ever felt this way. So, I figured I'd write down what it is we do every day.
The good news is that even things that we, as adults, don't find stimulating, are incredibly exciting for babies. Have you ever watched them stare at and study a ball, a bubble, or a tree? Things that are mundane to use because we've seen them a thousand times are brand new to them. Sometimes the simplest of activities are exactly what our babies need.
So, what is it that we do? How can you entertain your baby? Here are some of Henry's and my favorite activities. I've broken them up by category: relational (focus on bonding/the relationship between us), activity (focus on doing something), exercise (focus on being active), and sensory exploration (examining the world around him).
- Kiss attacks. Kiss attacks are one of my favorite activities because I get to steal a bunch of kisses. Usually Henry will be lying on his back and I will swoop in, making a sound, and give him lots of loud kisses around his face, neck, belly, and feet. Sometimes I'll spread them around and sometimes I'll focus on one body part. He loves when I alternate between feet. Sometimes he'll grab my face and kiss all over me. I try to follow his lead.
- Naptime. Of course, as a sleep deprived mom, I love naptime, but it's also important for Henry. Usually his naps are on me in the carrier, in my arms because he fell asleep breastfeeding, or against my side in bed. Sometimes after waking or before falling asleep we'll play in bed together, with his blankets, his baby, and other toys.
- Staring contest. I adore our staring contests. Henry always initiates them and I try to always participate (sometimes he catches me when I'm walking or doing something that requires me to look away). Usually he's in the carrier and tilts his head back and locks eyes with me. Rather than pull away I engage and lock eyes back. Sometimes I'll just stare into his eyes, sometimes I'll smile at him, sometimes I tell him how much I love him, and sometimes I rub his head. I've never made such intense eye contact for so long with anyone, but it's a beautiful moment and one I'm always glad to join with him.
- Cuddles. What could be better than cuddles from the sweetest and cutest little baby? Not much. I adore cuddles, and skin to skin cuddles are even better.
- Breastfeeding. All the time I say that if I hadn't breastfed I would have missed it intellectually, but now that I have breastfed, I would be so sad if I hadn't stuck with it or been able to do it. I know breastfeeding is meant to be a source of food, but it is so much more than that. I will probably write a whole separate post on it, because I have so much to say about it.
- Talking. We talk to each other. Maybe we're speaking different languages sometimes, but we talk. I tell him about what we're doing and he makes sounds and squawks and squeaks back at me. I've just recently started incorporating a few signs with him (they're actually my own version of sign language, but he doesn't know the difference) and use them with simple words every time I do something (e.g., up, more, and all done). He also knows to anticipate something on three because I count "one, two, three" to him during activities like putting on his clothes. I also help him make sense of his world by explaining every time a change happens. For example, he always opens his eyes really wide when I turn off the light when leaving a room. Imagine how strange that must be for a baby who doesn't know why his vision just disappeared. So, each time I turn on a light I say "light on" and each time I turn it off I say "light off."
- Video chatting. We live away from our families so one of the things we do on a regular basis is video chat with them. Henry loves to see the faces on the screen and, of course our families love to see him.
- Card making. Henry and I will make homemade cards for people (e.g., get well cards, birthday cards, etc.). We usually take a sheet of printer paper and I give him a marker and help him hold it while he draws on the paper. Sometimes he wants to eat the paper, but I just pretend it's a kiss for the recipient.
- Bathtime. Bathtime is something we do together every night and sometimes even in the middle of the day (especially after our messy food play). I only give him a full body wash with soap twice a week (Wednesdays and Sundays), but we play with cups, watch the water, splash, etc.
- Reading. As a family we've started going to storytime at Barnes and Noble every Saturday morning. Henry and I sit and listen to the story and do the activity while Derek searches for books. We often buy the book that we read that day, and we add to our collection almost every week. He may be too young to understand the stories, but he's not too young to make reading part of his life. At home he's even started to help me flip pages. In addition to reading the words, I'll talk to him about what's on the page, what he thinks is going to happen next, and the emotions the characters are feeling.
- Singing. My family laughs at me because I sing everything to Henry, especially when he's upset. I'll sing about waiting for daddy to come home from work, about us doing the dishes, about washing our hands in the bath, and whatever else we are doing. He loves songs.
- Sound play. One thing that can distract Henry when he's upset is to make crazy sounds. He likes it when I make "vroom" noises like a race car and when I make "mmm mmm mmm" sounds. Sometimes I make my own sounds and other times I mimic the ones he makes, like when he blows bubbles.
- Laundry basket play pen. I keep a laundry basket filled with blankets and some toys in the bathroom. It's perfect for him to sit in when I am going to the bathroom or getting ready. I also have some rings hooked around the handles of the laundry basket for him to spin and play with.
- Baking/cooking. We make dinner four nights a week and sometimes we bake something tasty. Again, even if he's too young to help me, I believe that he can start learning the routine and concepts of being in the kitchen. I think that treating him like he understands builds confidence and fosters self-efficacy. Now that he can sit in his highchair, sometimes he sits there, but usually I either hold him in my arms (not the most conducive to kitchen work) or hold him in the carrier. I can't tell you the number of times he's fallen asleep in the carrier while I'm working in the kitchen, but I pretend he's going to be a master chef who will cook for mommy one day.
- Happy baby. Ever since he found his feet, I usually spend some of the day laying on the ground with him and playing with our feet. He loves to watch my legs move around in the air. I'll let him touch my feet and I'll touch his. How often do you normally roll around on the ground? Try it, it's pretty fun (and you can make a core workout of it).
- Dancing. We'll put on music (or dance to imaginary music) and dance. Sometimes we dance when doing something tedious like putting away the dishes and sometimes we'll just dance around the living room. Once he gets older I'm sure he'll want to dance on his own, but for now I swing him around in my arms, hold him against me, pretend to drop him, spin him around, or dance with him against me in the carrier.
- Yoga. As you can tell from our instagram page, we do a lot of yoga together. Often it's just one pose, but I think it's good for both of us--keeping my practice alive, and modeling healthy habits for Henry.
- Stretching. In addition to me doing yoga, I'll help him stretch his body. Reaching his arms and legs up and down, turning his legs in circles, and rocking him side to side.
- Yoga ball. I love my yoga ball (stability ball) because it's good exercise for me and a wonderful way to soothe Henry. Right now as I type, I'm bouncing on my yoga ball with Henry asleep in the carrier.
- Airplane. Currently, this is one of the best ways to make him smile. I love how he smiles in anticipation when he knows we're about to play airplane. I stand him up with his belly against my shins (that's when he starts to grin) and then roll onto my back, letting him fly on my legs.
- Chest/shoulder press. My 23 pounder is quite the weight for me so this activity is a good exercise for me and fun for Henry. I'll either lay on my back and lift him up and down in the air, or stand and lift him up and down overhead.
- Bridge. This exercise was the first one that drew a true laugh out of Henry. I'll lay on the floor with my legs bent, sit him on my hips, and lift up and down. He enjoys the ride, and I get a good lower body workout.
- Push ups. I lay Henry on his back and give him kisses each time I come down for a pushup.
- Walks. Today it's cold and rainy outside, but we still had to get in our walk. Whenever Henry is fussy and nothing is soothing him, I strap him on and go outside for a walk. Sometimes we talk about what we see, sometimes we hum, but mostly we just look around and enjoy each other's company and the fresh air.
- Face exploration. Henry loves to take his hands and explore my face with them. He'll grab my nose, touch my mouth, let me suck his thumb while he sucks the other (such a good sharer), feel my cheeks, and reach for my eyes. Sometimes I pretend to eat his hands, and other times I describe the body part to him as he touches it.
- Texture touch. I want to make Henry a texture pillow with different fabrics because one activity we do is exploring different materials and how they feel. We have a silky pillow that has stitching on it and he loves to brush his hand against the different fabrics.
- Food art. We just started introducing solids last week (blog post coming soon) and we do what I call "food art." Because "food before one is just for fun" I'm not concerned about him eating it. Rather, I want him to develop a healthy relationship with food. Right now I'm perfectly fine with him not getting any in his mouth. I'll take some food and put it on his high chair tray and let him explore it. He loves to mash it around in his hands and move it all over the tray. It's the perfect form of painting because it's edible.
- Keyboard play. Henry loves the keyboard. I let him type a note to his grandparents and then he wouldn't stop. He was literally pushing himself as hard as he could trying to reach from my lap to the keyboard to keep typing. I figure it teaches some good cause and effect; even if he doesn't notice the typing on the screen, he can hear the sound as he presses the keys.
- Mirror play. Another thing Henry loves is the mirror. He often tries to jump out of my arms to get closer to our reflections. In addition to using the bathroom mirror to smile at each other, we bought a big mirror for his room so that we can sit in front of it and look at it. He loves to touch his reflection in the mirror. He also is figuring out that he can look at me in the mirror and then see me in real life. We also will use the front facing camera to look at ourselves and take pictures.
I usually follow Henry's lead in all of our play. I may want to exercise, but he may decide it's time to breastfeed. I may want to nap and he may want to play. I follow his lead and his cues.
Ultimately, I believe that the greatest lesson you can teach a child during the first year of life is that he or she is loved. If you give your heart and share your life with your child, I don't think he really cares what you are doing.