Birth to 1 month When babies come home from the hospital, it seems they’re barely awake long enough to do anything but eat and cry. But here are things you can do.• Make eye contact. "You look into the baby’s face; you mirror the baby’s face—it’s really important for infant development, and it’s something most parents are drawn to do," says Amanda Woodward, a University of Chicago psychology professor. • Try tummy time. Get your back-sleeping baby comfortable on her tummy, where she will learn key motor skills later. • Make faces. See if your baby copies you. • Put things in your baby’s hand. He will grasp them by reflex, and will learn about different textures. • Use a baby sling. Babies carried close to the body receive more interaction, Woodward says. But don’t use a frame-style backpack until a baby can sit up unassisted for a few moments. • Push your baby in the stroller. This allows him to see new things. 1 to 2 months • Try lap time. If you can get your baby to bend at the waist, he’ll likely sit on your lap with support. My husband and I would play cards in the evenings, trading off holding the baby. She liked looking at the colored playing cards, too. • Show him his reflection. Either hold your baby up to the mirror, or use a safety mirror that stands on the floor. • Set up a moving mobile. Or, tie her leg to a mobile with soft cloth (under close supervision). See if she will kick her leg to move the mobile. Connecting cause and effect is an early form of learning. • Work for smiles. "At around 6 weeks, when babies begin to smile, it’s incredibly engaging for parents to get their babies to smile, and it’s incredibly engaging for babies, too," Woodward says. • Read. Reading builds good habits for the future. The moment I opened a book, my daughter would quiet down. Now that she is older, she helps turn the pages. 3 to 4 months • Play ball. Attempts to bat and swipe at objects are your baby’s way of learning cause and effect. • Talk to each other. The back-and-forth of imitating baby talk, or narrating your activities and pausing for his input, teaches a baby that in conversation, people take turns making noise. • Touch. Babies learn the difference between "me" and "not me" by touching their hands and face, and you. • Try Velcro mittens. A recent study showed babies who were given special mittens so they could "grab" objects before they had the motor skills to do so learned faster. • Make noise. Shake a rattle or sing to see how long it takes him to turn to you. • Practice tracking. Move brightly colored items in and out of her field of vision. Your baby is beginning to match up input from her five senses, such as hearing something and seeing the source of the noise. • Walk your baby around the house. He is learning to recognize places by lighting, smell and colors. • Help your baby "stand" on your lap. Jeannie Shay, of Forest Park, says her son, T.J., now 6 months old, loved this. "He want[ed] to stand all the time." 4 to 5 months At this age, most babies are still stuck wherever you lay them down, but some roll a bit. For my daughter, 4 months marked the beginning of some fun interaction. • Practice sitting. Try having your baby sit up in a stroller rather than reclining in a buggy or car seat. If he slumps over, try again in a few weeks. • Get her giggling. Peek-a-boo is a great baby-pleaser but you need to repeat and repeat. Repetition and suspense are key to getting those giggles. • Work those legs. Walkers are discouraged for safety reasons. Try a stationary exerciser, which provides the same stimulation, but the baby can’t move across the room and pull a lamp on his head or fall down the stairs. • Kick. This builds motor skills and abdominal muscles needed for sitting. 5 to 6 months Now your baby is really getting fun. Here are some new games to try: • Fall-down-go-boom. Although she probably can’t sit or stand alone, hold your baby’s hands and help her to a sitting, then standing, position on a soft surface. When she starts to topple, let her fall safely, cheering her on. This builds muscles, and learning early that falling softly isn’t always cause for crying can be useful.
• Wiggling animals. At this age my daughter started playing with hand-held toys, so a stuffed zebra and camel often traveled in our diaper bag. Jiggling them in front of her face brought a big smile, followed by the total concentration it took for her to reach out, grab the camel and stuff its face in her mouth.The second half This is the first of a two-part series. Look for advice on stimulating your baby’s development from 7 to 12 months in the December Chicago Parent.