Simple activities promote development in many domains! Are these activities that you are familiar with?
For Young Infants
- Hold the baby in your arms and talk face to face, allowing time for him/her to respond. Try imitating his/her sounds. Face to face talking strengthens the baby’s attachment to you, an essential component of both emotional and social domains and indeed all learning. Your child- directed speech also aids in this development, as well as producing the beginnings of communication.
- Gentle massage – lightly encircle each limb in turn with your hand close to the baby’s body and gently move your hand toward the baby’s hand or foot , then lightly massage the hand or foot in a circular motion; use two fingers to slowly massage the baby’s trunk in clockwise circles, both front and back. Name parts of the body as you work them. Your gentle touch facilitates the baby’s body awareness as you are building your relationship with him/her. As you move the baby you are stimulating the areas of the brain responsible for the motor domain, as do the baby’s reactive movements to your stimulations. Hearing you name the parts of the body will lead to the baby acquiring this knowledge (cognitive domain) and vocabulary (language domain).
- Collect a variety of patterns and textures of cloth; cut squares from each, sewing six together in a 3 foot X 2 foot rectangle. Use it for a tummy time cloth, sometimes describing the textures and patterns as the baby explores them. Tummy time is so important for strengthening muscles and allowing for development of skills in the motor domain. The sensory experiences provided by the various pieces allow for cognitive development, as the baby learns to recognize differences, and your descriptions expand that learning into the language domain. In addition, as the baby develops a preference for one texture or another, his/her development in the emotional domain is also enhanced.
- Place a collection of developmentally appropriate items in a basket you then place within reach of a sitting baby; allow him/her to explore them in his/her own way, using parallel talk to describe what he/she is doing with the items as well as labeling them for the baby. This activity gives the child a chance to build his small muscles as he/she reaches for, and grasps the items in the basket. Allowing the baby to freely explore and “investigate” the features and functions of the items builds his/her cognitive development. Connecting words to describe the materials and the baby’s actions will help him/her build language and communication skills.
- Place the baby facing you. He/she can watch you change facial expressions (big smile, poking out tongue, widening eyes, raising eyebrows, puffing or blowing). Give the baby a turn and do what he/she does. This one-on-one activity strengthens attachment, while encouraging development in the motor domain, particularly oral motor skills, as the baby learns to move his/her mouth and tongue. Your turn-taking and imitation also involves the social and cognitive domains respectively; these skills are basic tools of learning. Studying facial expressions also impacts the emotional domain, since so many emotions can be expressed in that way.
For Mobile Infants
- Put an assortment of developmentally appropriate items into a bag and ask a child to pull something out. Label and describe each object. Each interaction that he/she takes part in with you promotes the child’s development of social skills. Reaching into the bag and grasping something to pull out also encourages the development of fine motor skills. This sensory activity allows the child to begin creating pictures in his/her mind, a type of memory; this helps support cognitive development. Your description of each object provides vocabulary words, impacting the language domain. Various emotions can be experienced during this activity, such as enjoyment, surprise, and excitement; you enhance development in the emotional and social domains when you name and share in these emotions with the child.
- Wrap a developmentally appropriate item in paper and encourage the child to “find the toy!” This activity is similar to the one above, but it involves a different motor skill as he/she works to take off the paper. (You can also use a small piece of cloth.) The impact on other developmental domains is identical to the activity above. Mobile infants are developing object permanence and both of these activities will reinforce that.
- Punch a hole in the center of one end of a shoe box and thread a shoelace through it and tie it off. Tie a large bead on the other end for a handle and encourage the child to load things into the box and pull it. Pulling objects while walking fosters motor development. As he/she puts items into the box – a favorite stuffed animal perhaps, blocks, or small toys, the child begins to explore space, an aspect of cognitive development. There is sure to be a social component to this activity as other children want to try it also; you will probably need several box “wagons.” The language you use with the children will enhance development in that domain as well.
- Create an “obstacle course” using pillows, carpet squares, a blanket draped over chairs to create a tunnel, and any other materials you have available. Mobile infants are compelled to move, and you can foster development of many motor skills for the children in your care by using things to go over, under, around, and through. This experience allows them to explore ideas of how their body fits into different spaces, enhancing cognitive development. Your use of the prepositions – over, under, around, through, etc., adds both vocabulary (language domain) and the concepts (cognitive domain). Emotional and social domains are also impacted as the children have fun and play together.
- Cover a table top with paper and allow children to scribble with non-toxic crayons. Name the color a child is using. Ask him/her if he/she wants a red or yellow crayon (for example) and repeat the color choice. Covering the entire table gives room for the child to use their entire arm to work, developing both large and small muscles as the child holds the crayon. Notice how the child holds the crayon as he/she moves from a palmar grip (holding item in a clenched fist) to a more developed pincer grasp(holding crayon with fingers) over time. Your day to day use of color names as you speak with the children about their experiences and activities will help them to acquire that knowledge just as they learn other things. When you describe the child’s lines as straight, round, curvy, crooked, or zigzag you are enhancing cognitive development and language development.
For Older Infants
- Contact paper collage – staple sticky side up onto cardboard and provide a variety of items to stick to it. Fine motor development is enhanced as children pick up items and place them down. Exploring how different items stick (or don’t) to the cardboard, encourages children’s curiosity and stimulates cognitive development. Expect as much taking items off as putting them on. Your parallel talk, such as “It looks like that piece of paper with the picture of the bear is really sticking,” enhances the language domain. Asking open ended questions such as, “Do you think this toy car is going to stick as well as the picture of the bear?” develops higher level thinking skills, even if you don’t get a verbal response.
- Laurie Berkner’s, We Are the Dinosaurs provides an opportunity for marching. Download it for $.99 at amazon.com. The lyrics themselves can be found at LaurieBerkner.com. Marching and stomping like dinosaurs develops large muscles; the fun of it enhances emotional development, and roaring provides an acceptable outlet of emotional expression. As the group of children participates (you know they will all follow you), it adds a social component to the activity. The ideas presented in the song (i.e. that dinosaurs slept in a nest and ate food on the ground) become part of the children’s knowledge base. Exposure to these new words and concepts will also increase their vocabulary.
- Pretend snowball toss – show children how to crumple tissue paper to make balls and pretend they are snowballs to throw. A fun winter activity when real snow is not available, this activity enhances both small and large muscle development. Cognitive development is enhanced when you notice the difference between throwing tissue paper balls and other items – do tightly compacted tissue paper snowballs go farther than more loosely packed balls? “I wonder. . .” statements are a great motivator to encourage experimentation. Your description of the children’s actions adds to their language development.
- Recycle some containers and lids; let children put lids on and take them off, figuring out which ones go together. Matching containers and lids requires the child to recognize similarities and differences, which enhances cognitive development. Learning to grasp the lid and twist the wrist to open the containers is an important fine motor and coordination skill. Your comments about the child’s actions and the containers themselves supports language and communication skills.
- Outdoor “painting” – use wide (2”) paintbrushes and buckets with water; children will have a great time painting the side of the building, the fence, etc. Help them notice the change in appearance as things get wet and as they dry due to evaporation in the sun. When you watch children painting, you may see them moving their whole bodies along with the brush, facilitating both large and small muscle development. This activity provides an opportunity for “I wonder. . .” statements and other open ended questions, enhancing both cognitive and language development.
Did you notice that language domain is written every time? Infants and toddlers learn language by hearing their caregivers talk to them, especially using descriptive language such as parallel talk, self talk, and stretch talk. This type of talk should be heard 2 to 3 times more often than directive talk (telling children what to do).