We often hear the saying, 'play is a child's work'. And while you may think this applies to littlies who can walk and talk and initiate their own games, play is critically important for babies to develop and learn and to form strong bonds with the important people in their lives.
The benefits of Baby Play
Babies are born with a natural urge to learn and you can enhance their development very simply – through touch, movement and play, along with optimum nutrition and an appropriately stimulating environment that includes music, colour, things to touch, and normal household activity and conversation – with minimal expense or stress to either of you.
New research shows that the most critical factor in helping your baby's brain development is loving, responsive interactions between you and your child: the loving interaction and sensory experience of your cuddles, touch, eye contact, movement, conversations that are all part of playing with your baby are hardwiring your little one's immature brain for emotional and neurological development: as you touch and talk to your baby and share eye contact, you stimulate the development of connections between nerve cells in your baby's brain that will form foundations for thinking, feeling and learning. This means that as well as preparing your baby's brain for academic learning, by simply 'tuning in' and enjoying your baby, you will also be supporting the development of structures that will help your child to respond sensitively to others and read social cues, to manage strong emotions such as anger, to be able to plan and make choices, so that as he grows, he will have the capacity for problem solving, self awareness, generosity, kindness and empathy, as well as curiosity, creativity and joy.
While neuroscience tells us that play is critical in helping babies' brains to learn, you can relax and simply enjoy your baby without seeing play as an 'academic exercise' or becoming stressed that you might not be 'doing it right'. According to research, it's not the play activity itself that causes learning, but the repetition that play encourages. To Play With Baby actually causes the brain's energy to be used in a different way – because the pleasure it brings causes repetition, play reinforces healthy brain wiring."
Studies show that with every interaction between you and your baby, you will both experience elevated levels of beta endorphins –the hormones of pleasure and reward -in your brains. This naturally enhances and encourages playfulness and responsive interactions with your baby. In other words, the more you interact with your baby, the happier you both feel, so the more you want to play and the more you will be helping your baby wire her tiny brain for learning!
How easy is that? You are your baby's best toy, his best teacher and the rock of your baby's world!
At first, playing with your baby will involve short periods of gentle interaction such as talking, rocking, eye contact and singing. It's important to be respectful of your newborn's short attention span and not overstimulate him. If he gets restless or turns away, it's time to give your baby a break. As your littlie grows, it won't be long before you will be encouraged by chuckles of glee as he begs for more vigorous play that involves bouncing, rolling and 'peekaboo' games. Of course, your little one's increasing mobility and sense of exploration will mean child-proofing toys and play spaces.