Monday, December 21, 2009

Polishing the Mirror: Simple Ways to Reflect the Best of Yourself for Your Baby

Last time, we talked about how babies watch their parents in order to learn more about the world around them. Babies use careful observation to learn as much as they can long before they are capable of asking questions or sitting in a schoolroom. Whenever babies are awake and alert, they are watching, learning, and experiencing everything that their senses can discover. That old cliche, that says "you are your child's first teacher" is true! Here are a few things to keep in mind as you guide your baby's early learning.

1. For most of the first year of your baby's life, you are completely in charge of his environment. You choose where he goes, what he sees, what he eats, where he sleeps, and who he is with. Choose wisely! Do your very best to make sure that your baby's environment is safe and interesting but not overwhelming. Don't worry about spending tons of money on fancy toys. Your baby would rather play with you than with anything you can buy.

2. Watch for signs that your baby is in a
quiet alert mood and when he is ready, show your baby the things you most want to share with him. Let him use as many senses as possible while you tell him about his world. For example, if you love the out of doors, use this time to take your baby outside to see, hear, and smell all the things you love about nature.

3. When your baby is in the room, don't let other people behave as if he is not there. Don't let anyone do or say things in front of your baby that you wouldn't want an older child to see or hear. It is easy to think that it doesn't matter what adults do around babies, but it does matter. Babies are "recording" others' words and actions long before they can talk or fully understand what is going on around them.

4. Learn your baby's cues and respond consistently to them. Babies learn quickly about "cause and effect" from the responses they get to their cues. By promptly responding to your baby's cues, you are teaching your baby that he can trust and communicate with you. Also, babies are most ready to learn when they are relaxed and comfortable.

5. Use routines to direct your baby's attention. Remember, babies feel safe and happy when they can predict what will happen to them. When you develop routines for bathtime, meal time, and naps, babies more readily learn your rules. We're not talking about "schedules" rigidly ruled by the clock, but routines - when you use the same series of words and actions. You can develop routines for learning time too! For example, if you notice that your baby is relaxed and alert, you can bring out a special blanket, smile, and ask "Are you ready to see something new?" before you get down on the floor and play with him. When your baby is old enough, this routine will bring squeals of glee.

6. Let your baby explore! Safe exploration is a powerful learning tool. Babies are driven to look, touch, taste, smell, and listen to everything in their environment. Make sure that your baby has an opportunity to move and experience (safe) things each day. Don't forget to watch for signs that your baby needs a break from all the activity. Remember, too much fun can be overwhelming!

Next time: More Holiday Wishes from UC Davis!

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