The items in the following section suggest ways you can have interaction and communicate with Baby while encouraging his development. Many of these activities you are naturally doing—such as rocking and singing to him. Consider trying other activities that you might not have thought of, such as changing Baby’s position to stimulate the use of different muscles; or copying his soft sounds during your “conversations”; or moving Baby’s arms in motions to songs, poems, or verses.
When interacting with Baby, the feelings you express are more important than the exact words you use. The baby is reading your voice tones, facial expressions, and touch. The most important message you can send is that you love him and enjoy being with him!
Remember that there is no other baby quite like yours, and no other parent or caretaker quite like you! Each baby is an individual who will progress at his own rate and in his own style. No two babies grow at exactly the same rate, so some of these activities may be too easy for your baby and some too difficult. Tailor the following suggestions to suit the unique little person that your baby is. When you let Baby set the pace of an activity he enjoys and is ready for, you’ll both have fun!
Newborn to Six Weeks
A newborn baby spends most of his time lying down, so make his surroundings as interesting and attractive as possible. Put interesting pictures, posters, or colorful collages on the wall, or tucked into the side of the crib (securely, so they can’t fall over on Baby). Add a little music with a CD, tapes, wind-up musical toys, or wind chimes.
Sing to Baby as you hold him close to you. Communicate with him by looking into his eyes while talking with him in a friendly voice. If you’re reading something that is suitable for Baby to hear, read out loud to him while nursing or while he’s in your arms. Keep the atmosphere cheerful by playing uplifting children’s song tapes throughout the day.
You can make simple mobiles, and change them every few days. Use drinking straws, bright cloth or paper shapes, pipe cleaners, felt shapes, cookie cutters that will tinkle when shaken, aluminum foil, small stuffed animals or toys, etc. Be sure your mobile is put together securely, so there is no chance of pieces of it falling into the baby’s crib.
Babies are often attracted to bright lights, so you may find your baby staring at bare light bulbs. Be careful that lights are not so bright that they will hurt his eyes—and keep the lamps and their cords well out of Baby’s reach.
Babies like to see what’s going on, so even at a very young age they will appreciate being propped up in an infant seat or with pillows so they can be a part of the action. A bouncy chair gives the baby a good view of the room, as well as a little activity as you bounce him gently. Be sure the baby is safely strapped into his infant seat or bouncy chair, and if you place him on a table, bed, or sofa, make sure he is in the middle and securely set. Do not leave him unattended.
You should provide opportunities for Baby to move his arms and legs freely, and give him time for stretching and wriggling.
Do not leave your infant alone in a room with other small children or pets, as they may accidentally harm him. Cats should be kept away from your sleeping baby, as cats love warmth and may curl up by Baby and get too close to his face.
If your baby is sleeping in the next room, check on him often. Be sure the covers are tucked in and all is well. Check that the room has good ventilation. Take care that there is nothing close to Baby’s face, such as the sheet, blanket, pillow, stuffed toy, tissues, plastic, or anything else (including a mattress that is too soft), that might restrict his breathing or allow a buildup of carbon dioxide around his face while asleep. There shouldn’t be any thin plastic (like plastic bags) at all in the baby’s bed or within reach.
There are various suspected causes of crib deaths, including shock from immunization shots. It is wise to closely monitor very young sleeping babies, especially if they are having trouble breathing or have recently been inoculated. Some feel that it is best to place Baby on his side for sleeping, rather than on his back or face down.
Six Weeks to Three Months
By six weeks your baby will be becoming much more aware of things around him, and will want to be a part of everything. Move him from room to room with you. Try having him near you in a baby carrier (or “sling”) when he’s awake and you’re working, so you can touch, “talk” to, and smile at each other. Let Baby know he’s loved by being generous with gentle hugs and kisses.
Give Baby time for stretching and wriggling and exercises. Diaper-changing time is a good time to begin baby exercises, massaging and gently moving his little limbs.
Sing songs about Jesus to your baby. Talk about Jesus and put up a picture of Jesus near Baby’s bed or changing table. Talk about the picture or tell him little stories or poems while you are changing his diaper. You can even begin helping Baby to learn Bible verse excerpts or helpful short sayings by singing and quoting short verses or sayings to him throughout the day. At the end of this booklet is a listing of “Baby and Toddler Verses and Quotes.” These are also available on illustrated color posters from Aurora Production, or you can create your own. You can decorate Baby’s room with them, or put them up in the kitchen, or wherever Baby spends time. Starting at about three months, you can teach Baby a verse every week from the “Baby and Toddler Verses and Quotes” posters. Just keep cheerfully quoting the verses daily to Baby, and as soon as he can talk, he’ll participate. Don’t underestimate how much input a baby can take in. It will be a while before you get much feedback, but he is listening, absorbing, and learning.
Colorful realistic pictures and a big mirror on the wall (securely attached or out of his reach) will give him different things to look at. He will probably still be interested in mobiles at this age, but will also want to be handling more things. You can make a “cradle gym” by fastening various toys and shapes to a length of elastic and attaching it across his crib so he can look at it and bat at it with his hands and feet while lying on his back. Again, make sure that Baby cannot get tangled up in it or pull off parts that could be dangerous.
As your baby develops, he will have more control over the movements of his head, arms, and legs.
The rattle game
When the baby is lying on his back on a safe flat surface such as his cot or a blanket, stand behind him so that he can’t see you. Hold the rattle above his head and shake it gently until he looks at it. When you are certain that he has seen the rattle, move it slowly back and forth in different patterns, slowly enough that he can focus on it. When he has followed the rattle for a while, change the direction, continuing to move it slowly and smoothly.
You can also move the rattle slowly out of his sight. When he tries to follow the sound, reward him for his efforts by moving it back within his eyesight. Encourage him also by saying, “See the rattle! Good!”
When your baby is on his stomach, encourage him to look up. Then dangle the rattle in front of his face and slowly lift it up. This will make him lift his head up to follow it. You can show him how to push on his arms to raise his head and shoulders. Always reward him with praise after he does something.
On some occasions, encourage Baby to reach out for the rattle, reinforcing the visual experience with a physical one. Hold the rattle out of the baby’s reach and shake it until he sees it. Then slowly move it towards the baby so he can reach out and grasp it. When the baby grabs the rattle, praise him cheerfully and excitedly. Let him enjoy it for a few moments and then repeat the exercise.
At this age the baby’s eyes are able to focus quite well, and he can hear a variety of sounds. Slowly he becomes more and more aware of his physical boundaries—where he ends, and where the world begins.
Three Months to Six Months
Once Baby has begun to master the basics of hand-and-eye coordination, you can expand his range of activities. He can begin to enjoy more refined and intricate activities and experiences.
Try a simple hide-and-seek game: With your baby sitting on your lap, place his favorite toy on the table. Partly cover it with a colorful cloth. Encourage the baby to find the toy by removing the cloth himself. Make the activity fun and encouraging.
Try to think of new and creative ways to stimulate Baby to explore and manipulate the things around him. Explore with him all the wonders of inside things, outside things, things that roll and make noises, things that are soft and fuzzy, things liquid and things solid, things warm and things cool. Always clearly explain and describe everything to him, just as you would an older child.
Two simple games you might try are: 1) Put some of his favorite toys in a container and have him take them out. Always praise him when he accomplishes each new task. 2) Tie a couple of toys onto brightly colored yarn. Put them on the table and show him what happens when you pull the string. Encourage him to pull the toy towards him. Then let him play with the toy.
Don’t tease or frustrate him, and only do these kinds of games when he seems to show interest. Do not leave strings on toys in or around Baby’s crib or playpen, or let him play with the strings unattended.
At this stage, most babies love to imitate others. If you shake your head, they’ll shake theirs; if you speak or make sounds, they’ll try to imitate your mouth movements and even some of the sounds they hear. They also love to mimic you if you recite and act out little rhymes and jingles with actions.
Songs and stories
Continue to teach Baby about God, by singing songs, acting out verses and stories, and showing pictures of Jesus. Tell stories from the New Testament using Bible story picture books or flannelgraphs,1 songs, rhymes and action.
Vocabulary and sight reading
Talk a lot to Baby, introduce new vocabulary daily; for example, “outside words” such as “tree,” “grass,” “dog,” “road.” Go around and let him touch some of the things you are talking about. You can start introducing large-print, red words for sight reading, e.g., “Mommy,” “Daddy,” Baby’s own name, “Jesus,” “bottle,” etc. (Choose words he is familiar with and hears throughout the day.)
Music and videos
Baby will enjoy listening to happy children’s song tapes, and sometimes watching suitable, edifying children’s music videos. However, limit Baby’s time in front of the video screen, as he will learn much more and make more progress if he does things involving physical movement, playing with things he can feel and handle.
Baby will also enjoy more active exercises, like bouncing up and down in a “jolly jumper” (a seat attached to a long spring or thick rubber cord and securely hung from a ceiling hook or clamped to the top of a door frame).
Your baby may enjoy a baby swing where he can watch you as he swings back and forth. A young baby will often fall asleep in a swing, but be sure to take him out when he does, and place him in his bed. Some poorly designed swing seats can restrict blood circulation to Baby’s legs.
Baby walkers, for all their leg stimulation benefits, have now been banned in many places because of the number of very serious accidents that babies have suffered when they “walked” into dangerous places, or tipped their walker forward, or tumbled down stairs. If you use one, be sure that it is stable and well made, and that Baby is in a safe environment, constantly supervised while in the walker.
Many babies fall from changing tables by rolling over when their parents least expect them to. Often such accidents happen before the parents realize their babies have learned to roll over. But once babies begin to become mobile, it happens very quickly. Be prepared! Many changing tables have restraining straps that keep Baby from rolling off the table. If yours doesn’t have one, you can make your own safety strap using a belt or a cloth luggage strap.
Six to Seven Months
At this age your baby will be awake for longer periods of time, and will be content to play by himself for short periods. But he will also want Mommy or someone in sight while he plays. This is a good time to play suitable music. (Parents and caregivers are advised to not use headphones when caring for babies, as you need to be able to listen and look in on Baby as you work.) Give Baby a variety of objects to amuse him—baby-safe household objects, as well as squeeze toys, soft toys, etc. The six- to seven-month-old baby likes toys that also make interesting noises, such as pot lids, metal cups, and so forth. (Of course, nothing with a sharp edge, or that could come apart, or that you don’t want him sucking on.)
Baby will want to see all that is going on, so he may enjoy being in a highchair playing with toys. At this age Baby will start dropping things to see what happens to them. To save yourself bending and retrieving these toys, simply tie them to the high chair using a short string or shoelace. (Just be sure to keep the strings short enough so there is no danger of Baby strangling or choking on it when you aren’t looking.) This way, dropping the toys and then pulling the string to get them back will fascinate your baby. This method is also good if you are on an outing with the baby, as you can tie the toys to the side of the pram or stroller. However, be warned that allowing Baby to drop things from his high chair may result in him also tossing his food and eating utensils onto the floor. Baby is a little too young to understand that one activity is allowed and the other—identical in his mind to the first—is not.
Songs and prayers
You should continue to sing Baby songs about God. At this age, you can also teach him how to fold his little hands and pray! Saying the same one- or two-line prayer before each type of activity helps Baby to learn it—e.g., “God bless and keep us safe!” or “Thank You, Jesus, for this food!”
You can familiarize Baby with individual flannelgraph pieces, such as baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, sheep, angel, donkey, manger, adult Jesus, etc. Flannelgraph pieces also make ideal pictures for use in making mobiles and are helpful in teaching sight reading words. (Familiarize the child with the person or thing depicted by the flannelgraph piece, then show him the associated word card which you have made.)
Please and thank you
This is a good age to start teaching Baby to say “please” by clapping his hands and “thank you” by nodding his head or saying thank you (which will probably come out as “ta-ta”). Even though he probably won’t yet be able to clap or say “ta-ta” on his own, it’s good to begin teaching the concept. For example, you could take his hands and clap for him while saying “Please!” and then, “Good boy!—Now you can have the toy!”
The body game
Take time to play the “body game” with your baby. Start by moving his arm in a playful way, while saying, “This is [Baby’s name] arm.” Continue to do this with the other parts of his body, naming all the different body parts and making a game of it. This will help to develop his body awareness.
For a more challenging version of hide-and-seek, place a toy where Baby can see it, then hide the toy from view by placing a piece of cardboard in front of it. When he tries to get the toy, he will probably knock down the piece of cardboard, which is fine. Show him how he can also lift the cardboard to get the toy. With each game, be sure to ask him, “Where has the toy gone?” or, “Can you find the toy?” and “There it is! You found it! Good!—Let’s try it again!” Let Baby play with the toy for a while once he has found it.
String toy games
You can also play a variation of the string and toy game. Have three pieces of different colored yarn, but this time only tie a toy on to the end of one of them. Place them in front of the baby and ask him to pull the one with the toy on it. This will take quite a bit of practice as he learns that only one of the pieces of yarn brings the toy. When he pulls the yarn with the toy on it, praise him and let him play with the toy. Caution: Never leave these strings in the playpen or crib or where Baby might get tangled in the cord or wrap it around his neck.
Helping Baby learn to crawl
There are many ways to encourage and help Baby to learn to crawl, including setting him on his tummy on a firm tubular pillow or soft beach ball and rocking him back and forth, supporting him with your hands. This will teach him to react to falling forward and improve his sense of balance. Removing Baby’s restricting diapers and clothes and laying down a clean sheet for him to lie on can stimulate a baby to make more body movements. To get him started, you can place him on his tummy with an object just out of his reach, which you can encourage him to reach for. Pushing your hands against the bottom of his feet will also encourage him to propel himself forward with a kicking motion. You can also help him learn to crawl by supporting most of his body weight (wrap a towel around his middle and lift), while he uses his arms and legs to practice crawling.
You can begin reading to Baby from picture books at a very early age, as soon as he can sit up. Choose a time to read books with your baby when he is not engrossed in other play. Make it a special time with Mommy or Daddy or friends. Use simple language and short sentences, and give him plenty of variety in books. He may already be saying words. Encourage him in his efforts to repeat sounds and words.
Seven to Ten Months
Baby will want to try to get around the house, if he’s crawling, and will play on his own sometimes. So give him chances to learn and develop control of his arms and legs by providing safe, clean places for him to crawl and play.
To make bedtime easier on him and yourself, establish a set bedtime routine of quiet activities. Sing to Baby or look at picture books together, to help him unwind from the day. He may do fine with bedtime now, but as he gets older and develops into more of an independent thinker, you may find he has ideas of his own when it comes to bedtime. So an established bedtime routine—such as pajamas on, a little snack, story time on Mommy’s bed, into bed, prayer for the night, putting a soft children’s music tape on when in bed—will help him more easily accept that it’s bedtime.
You probably won’t be able to actually teach Baby using flannelgraphs or a similar aid until he is toddler age. Children younger than 18 months usually can’t be expected to sit still and watch. Still, you can familiarize Baby with the characters and figures of Bible flannelgraphs and tell him the stories in a very simple but exciting way. You’ll have to imitate different voices and really put a lot of action in it to keep his interest! Even then you’ll find that you can usually only continue for a very short time, because his attention span isn’t very long.
Your baby will be starting to crawl and get around more in these months. Be watchful where you let him explore, and make sure all is safe. It’s very dangerous for a little child to play in the kitchen, because when you’re preparing meals, you are preoccupied, plus you may be handling heavy or hot dishes which could fall or spill. Avoid situations where accidents might happen. When you have a little child on the floor of a kitchen, you are creating a situation where an accident could easily happen. Putting Baby in a baby seat on the table is also dangerous at this age. If you must have the baby with you in the kitchen, strap him in a highchair out of the way, where things cannot fall or be spilled on him, and where he can’t reach any dangerous objects. Give him some safe kitchen utensils to play with, such as a plastic or wooden spoon or spatula, plastic cup, funnel, etc.
Your baby will be able to handle smaller objects now, so, to increase this skill, place two toy blocks in front of him while you’re both sitting on the floor. Show him how he can put one on top of the other. Let him do it. Then add a third block so he can build a simple three-block tower. At first the blocks won’t be directly one on top of the other, but with practice he will be able to do this.
A variation of this is to show him how you can place two or three blocks in a line on the floor and push them around. If he pushes on the third one in the right direction, the first two move also. He may enjoy watching this happen, and gradually he’ll be able to build and keep the blocks in a line while pushing them. Add more blocks as he masters these skills.
As your baby learns to crawl, he will love to move around and pick up objects that interest him. Roll a tennis ball and ask Baby to get it and give it back to you. Many babies love to play this game. You will probably tire of it before he does!
When your baby is not so active, perhaps just before bed or nap, cuddle him close while you read to him. At this age, realistic, colorful picture books with simple language are best, or you can tell him the story in your own words. He will now be starting to associate people and things with names. Remember to talk to your baby a lot and encourage him to try to repeat sounds.
Steps and stairs are dangerous places for young children. Safety gates should be securely in place at top and bottom. But stairs also are a fact of life, and children need to be taught how to use them safely. Crawling up a set of stairs under close supervision is a great accomplishment and good exercise for babies on the move.
One father tried the following: “When our daughter climbed the stairs she was so thrilled, but then I let her see that she also had to learn to crawl down! She cried a little and wanted to be carried, but instead I showed her move by move, how to go down backwards. I did the same with anything she climbed onto.”
Try not to be too reluctant to let a child learn something new as long as your close supervision will help him avoid the danger. If you teach your baby to do even potentially dangerous things carefully and properly, through the experience and under your supervision, he will be better equipped to recognize the danger and avoid accidents than if you never let him near anything dangerous.
Ten Months to One Year
By now your baby may be starting to pull himself up and walk. He will be a very busy little fellow, and will need a variety of things and toys to keep him happy, challenged, and content. He probably will be able to follow simple commands and wave bye-bye, fetch things (which babies love to do), and participate more in the games you play with him.
Parents could well apply the Scripture “He [the child] must increase but I [the parent] must decrease!” (John 3:30). Try not to rob a child of experiences he can do for himself just because you are in a hurry. Older children often rush in and open Baby’s present for him because he is going too slow for their liking, but the older children should be taught to let Baby learn how to do things himself, rather than taking over. If Baby is frustrated about something he is trying to do, show him how it can be done and let him try again, if he wants to. Encourage him that he can do it by himself. Patience and persistence are qualities that can be cultivated simply by helping children learn how to work through their challenges.
When babies start to walk, they often lose weight, eat more, and need more sleep. For them, walking (even if they still hold onto the furniture or your hand) is hard work! Therefore, let them sleep as long as they want, and don’t wake them from their sleep, or they may get overtired, run-down, and more susceptible to sickness.
Make up a story
You can help increase Baby’s concentration by telling him simple, short stories about objects at hand, such as a favorite toy that you can look at together.
A cardboard playhouse
Big cardboard boxes from the grocery store or home appliance shop are fun for Baby. Cut out the ends of two or three boxes. Turn them over and line them up and he has a tunnel. Or, throw a blanket over a small table to make a fun playhouse or tent, and a good place to play peek a boo. Children love their own little house, and may like to bring their toys inside it and play for a while.
Teaching Baby to read
At this age you can begin a consistent sight-reading program, especially if you’ve been talking to him a lot and teaching him many new words over the past months. Neatly printed word cards can be shown to him throughout the day. Place the word card “Mommy” by a picture of Mommy; the word “ball” next to a ball; the word “truck” on one of his toy trucks. Say the word to the child and point to the object, then ask him to point to the word as you say it. He may not be able to say the word yet, but he is beginning to associate the word card with the object. In a couple of days, place a new word card on a different object, and say the word. You will be surprised how quickly he will be able to point out these different words when you ask him to show you the one you indicate. Always make it fun, and change the words often enough so he does not get bored. (The most common mistake parents make is going too slow.) You could also put the words he knows in a book with hand-drawn or cut-out pictures so you can sit and read “his word book” together.
In the can
Get a small container such as an empty coffee can with a clear plastic lid. (Make sure there are no sharp edges on the can.) Make a large rectangular slot in the lid. The container’s lid should be one that can easily be taken off by the child so he can open it to get at its contents. He will probably not be able to screw or unscrew a container top. Select or make from cardboard suitable objects or shapes, and have him watch you drop these into the can through the slot. Let him help you take off the lid, then empty the can. Then say, “Now you fill it. See if you can get these to go in.” He may need help at first until he can do it by himself.
If you can, obtain plastic stacking toys, which also fit into each other (nesting toys). They can be used to build towers or to fit into each other. Start by using only three of very different sizes and building a pyramid. Sit on the floor next to Baby and place the three objects one on top of the other, telling him what you are doing. Encourage him to try, “Here, now you do it.” Don’t insist that he try to stack them in order, for instance with the biggest on the bottom. Let him try it any way he wants. Another time, you can reverse the game and have him fit the stacking cups into each other. You don’t have to tell him when the objects don’t fit. He can see it. This kind of game is self-correcting. When the smallest cup is placed inside the biggest, he discovers he can’t put the middle-sized cup in place. Help him see what’s happening, “Oops, it won’t go, something’s blocking it. Try again.”
More games and toys
You can hide some safe-to-play-with object, like a cup or measuring spoons, in a shoe box. When Baby lifts the lid, he will be surprised to find it. Hammer and peg toys are good for this age. If your baby has started to walk, he will probably like to have toys that he can pull along with him. He may be happy with almost anything on the end of a string: empty thread or twine spools, pine cones, small boxes, etc. To make a train that he can pull, fasten several small boxes together and attach a string. To make a caterpillar, use spools of thread of different colors. Or, make a worm with hair rollers, fastened end to end.
In your yard or at a park, your soon-to-be toddler will enjoy outdoor play with you. Crawling in the grass is a new experience, and it’s nice and soft to fall on if he’s just learning to walk. Play is learning for a baby—so help him see a butterfly or a bee at work, or watch the birds fly, or see squirrels gathering food. Learning to follow a moving object with their eyes is good for babies.
1. Bible flannelgraphs are available in many Christian bookstores. They are felt-backed pictures of story figures, which can be placed on a “flannelboard” or piece of soft fabric to which they adhere. They provide a versatile and fun way of presenting stories to babies and young children.