You know how it’s quite the trend these days to write a “Things I Wish I Had Known” letter to your younger self, sharing with the more naive, less wrinkled version of yourself some crucial life lessons.
Well, I’m doing the same for the pretty-much clueless pregnant ‘me’ before I gave birth to my first baby. I’m planning on distributing these tips widely to my kids when they’re older, so they can benefit from my musings on the things I wish I had done with my baby.
Becoming a mum for the first time was 100%, all-round overwhelming! This tiny little (gorgeous) baby flung me on a rollercoaster of emotions – intense love, worry, anxiety, frustration, exhaustion, euphoria and everything in between. She may have been small, but she had the biggest power to make me a quivering mass of nerves.
“Why didn’t she drink enough?”
“Why is she drinking so much?”
“Was that a cough?”
“OMG What does that poo colour mean?”
There is no way in a million years that I could tell my pregnant self to never worry (we’re wired as mums to worry!) but one of the big things I wish I had done was to breathe more. Try and not sweat all the small stuff… because there is so much small stuff. Stop running around like a headless chook trying to be the ‘perfect’ mum and just enjoy the cuddles. Breathe in the magical scent of your newborn and marvel in the miracle that this adorable little bub is yours.
Have Fun! Stimulate Your Baby
I wish I had realised that my baby’s brain is an incredible sponge from day one. I sang her lullabies and read her baby books but I always felt a little eccentric reading to a tiny thing that could barely babble. Those early years are such a crucial time for the development of your bub’s brain. There are many neuroscience-based studies that show how important play and simple activities are to nurture the development of your little one. I wish I had known that things, like playing music and shaking a rattle, could activate my baby’s brain and help prepare them to be lifelong learners.
I wish I had known about MindChamps when my eldest was born. MindChamps is an innovative early learning and preschool network which has a number of centres in Australia and around the world. MindChamps was born in Sydney in 1998 and was created from the belief that every child is born with the potential to be a champion. (I just love that philosophy!)
The MindChamps team has come up with a list of easy, educational activities – backed by science – that you can do at home to activate your baby’s mind. I wish I had done these fun activities with my baby.
Play, Play and Play Again
I wish I had played with my baby more. It’s so easy to get caught up in the endless chores and the almost-impossible quest for routine, that I almost never made the time to actually play with my bub. I’ve learned now that when we interact with our babies in a playful way – touch, rock, talk, smile and sing to them – we are actually stimulating their nervous system and ‘wiring’ the brain to make it easier for them to learn. These seemingly simple activities help to boost your baby’s intelligence.
A baby uses touch to learn about their environment. Stimulating your bub to use both hands will help the left and right hemispheres of the brain to make ‘cross-lateral’ connections.
Activity to Try: Rough and Smooth (TOUCH)
Collect clean, safe, colourful objects with different textures. Have your baby hold these objects one at a time in their hands. Hold objects close to your newborn and move them to attract attention. Allow your baby’ random movements to come in contact with the objects and rub them softly up and down on their arms, legs, torso and face.
As your baby gets a little older, place an object in the left hand and let your baby explore the toy. Repeat with the right hand. Allow your baby time to play with the object, to touch it and to taste it. Let your baby explore sticky surfaces, smooth surfaces and bumpy surfaces.
Talk constantly about the object – name it, describe it, etc. It doesn’t matter that your baby doesn’t understand the words – just trust that connections are being made inside that growing brain.
Watch for signs of what kinds of touch your baby likes or dislikes. Is your baby smiling and enjoying the experience? Stop any touch experiences that they seem to dislike.
Talk to Your Baby
I wish I had known how important it is to talk to your baby. Just because your bub can’t talk back, doesn’t mean they aren’t soaking up every word you are saying to them. The more your baby hears you speak, the better prepared they will be to handle the complexities of language as they get older.
Research shows that the language sounds that a baby hears during their early years get stored permanently in their brain. However, after the age of 5, the networks become more ‘set’, and it is much more difficult for the child to master the sounds of an unfamiliar language.
Your baby has no real understanding of language, but by talking, you strengthen the neural networks which will be used to decode and make sense of language as the child’s brain matures.
Activity to Try: Baby Banter (HEARING)
Answer a baby’s gurgles and coos as if they are coherent statements. Show them your delight by smiling, hugging and praising them. When your baby makes a sound, imitate it. Repeat the noises and smile back. For example, when your baby stretches an arm towards the bottle and gurgles, you can say, ‘Oh you’d like some milk?? Here’s your milk. Isn’t milk soooo good?’.
By repeating a word in connection with an object, you are giving your child the valuable experience of relating particular sounds with a particular object. This is the beginning of mastering language.
You can also read your child nursery rhymes or other verses that have strong rhythms and repeated patterns of sound. Vary your tone and pitch, make funny faces and sing lullabies.
Take a hand mirror and lay your baby on their back, hold the mirror in front of them, about 20 to 30 cm away, so that they can see themselves in the glass. Move the mirror slowly from side to side, so that as it moves’ your own face is revealed behind it. This variation on the ‘peek-a-boo’ game allows you to stimulate your baby with smiles and other expressions.
Whatever you do with your expression, make sure you use a variety of vocal tones and pitches, so that your baby will get used to different sounds and words.
Experiment with Tastes & Smells
I wish I had been more experimental with my daughter’s food to help her expand her palate.
The clever team of educators at MindChamps suggests that as your baby gets older and begins to eat solid foods, you can let them smell different foods then taste them to sample different flavours. That way, they can learn to associate the smell with taste. Watch to see if your baby shows any preferences and build on them.
While you can begin this process in the first six months, it’s a game that you can play with your child right up until school age – with both smell and taste.
This is also a good way of avoiding the ‘fussy eater’ problems that sometimes emerge with the ‘terrible twos’.
These activities are just a sliver of the broader activities MindChamps does to nurture the development of your little one. If you’re keen to explore more science-backed, mind-enriching activities, follow their MindChamps Australia Facebook Page to get plenty of nurturing ideas for your little one.
What would be on your “What I wish I had Done With My Baby” list? Tell us in the comments below.
The team at Mouths of Mums is working with MindChamps Early Learning and Preschool Centres to bring you this article. After decades of research into early learning pedagogy, neuroscience and child psychology, and drawing upon the engagement techniques of theatre, MindChamps has crafted a new approach to early learning that is designed to equip the children of today with the foundations for future success.