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Activities for Infants

Poushali Ganguly
The key factor in planning activities for infants is that these activities have to engage their 5 senses. This stage is a very crucial stage of development for the infant -- everything has a sense of awe, and everything is approached with curiosity. It is therefore important that the parents are always around to fulfill this need.
An infant is a child who falls in the age bracket of 1-18 months. Through this stage, the infant will slowly learn to speak, walk, and carry through other such activities that require using his intellectual and analytical mind. That is why the activities that are included in this stage become extremely important.
The activities need to fulfill a dual purpose -- they need to be fun and engaging for the infant, and at the same time stimulate his 5 senses. This will thereby help him develop motor and problem-solving skills, language, and an emotional intelligence quotient, among other things.
The LSRW technique should ideally be followed when teaching an infant. This includes - Listen. Speak. Read. Write.

Point to be Noted: Even though an infant might not respond immediately to the exercises mentioned below, they will learn to do so with time.

Sound Activities

How These Help

These help develop their sense of language and help them understand and identify the relation between the source and sound.

Use an Object

Use an object that makes a noise when used. For example - a bunch of rattling keys, a bell, or even just clapping with your hands. Stand in the opposite direction from the baby's periphery of vision and make a sound. Make absolutely sure that the sound is soft; it should not startle the baby in any way. The baby will slowly turn its head towards the source of the sound.
Call Out to the Baby
Take the baby's name as often as possible. This will help him, over time, to associate the sound with his name and help him understand that is his name.
Simply talk to the baby in a soft and soothing voice. Modulate your voice often.
Talk to the Baby
The baby recognizes its mother's voice and face, so the father, siblings or grandparents talking to the baby in a soothing voice will help him/her recognize the different voices and over time, the source of the sounds.

Play a Song

Extensive research has proven that when in the womb, the baby can hear and understand everything that happens in the outside environment. It has been proven that a song(s) played when the woman is pregnant is recognized by the baby after it is born. In fact, the song helps to sooth a cranky baby. Make sure that the songs are soft toned and extremely soothing. Even if played after their birth, these songs will help them draw an association with the same.
Speak Softly in the Ear
An activity that many parents love for soothing their cranky child is to simply speak in their ear in a soft, monotonous, soothing voice.
The soft sounds sans the modulation, helps the infant relax. While you carry this through, you'll notice that they will completely concentrate on what you're saying, and many babies will even fall asleep with this tone.

Visual Activities

How These Help

These help develop the baby's sense of vision and help him/her understand different concepts like color and the like.
Hang a mobile toy that has different shapes and designs in varied colors and sizes in their crib.
Hang an Object
Let it be in their periphery of vision at all times. The different colors will draw their attention and they will learn to understand colors over time.

Follow an Object

When the baby is on his back, hold an object right above his head. With his attention fully on the object, slowly turn the object to the right side -- the baby will follow the toy with his eyes, hold it in place and then slowly take the object to the left, the baby will follow the object again. Alternately, you could simply become the subject and go from one side to the other while the baby follows you with his eyes.
Introduce a lot of colors in their toys and name the colors while marking them out.
Use Bold Colors in Toys and Books
Similarly, when the infant is a little older, buy colorful books, explain the different colors to him/her while taking him/her through the pictures like thus. Another way in which colors can be introduced to a slightly older infant is to ask the child to pick an outfit that he/she would like to wear -- then say the color out loud when they pick the outfit.

Making Faces

An infant is great with mimicking and copying the actions of an adult. Place the infant on his back and do several actions like sticking out your tongue, pulling your ears, popping your eyes, raising your eyebrows, smiling widely... the infant will be stuck on to the face and might even try to mimic your actions. Do not overdo it though because infants are easily overstimulated.

Oral and Olfactory Activities

How These Help

These activities will help them in developing their sense of taste, recognizing different flavors and scents, and developing the muscles in their mouth.
When children start teething, they start biting and gnawing at whatever objects they can get their hands on.
Teething Toys
For hygiene purposes and to ease the pain that makes way during teething, it is important that you provide them with the right kind of toys. There are teething rings that can be refrigerated such that it soothes the baby. Many parents also make use of cold cucumber or carrot pieces for teething -- but one has to be very careful when using these.
When you start out on solid foods for your baby, start by introducing varied flavors in their food. This will help develop their taste buds.
Introducing Flavors

Smelling Things

Introducing different smells and scents will form a base for the infant to understand the difference between different odors and smells. Start out with things that emanate mild scents like vanilla, orange peels, soaps, and the like.

Touch Activities/Activities that Develop Muscles

How These Help

These activities help develop all the muscles of the baby and help strengthen his/her bones.
Once the infant can lie on his stomach, try this following activity with him.
Pushing Against the Hand
Place him on his stomach and place a toy right in front of his eyes, a little distance away. Now place your hands on the soles of his feet and give him a soft push. He will slowly start pushing against your hand and propelling himself forward towards the toy.
Place the toy a little away and continue with this activity for sometime. Then let him reach the toy and spend time examining the same.

Kicking the Toy

While the child is on his back, show the child a soft toy (preferably one that makes a sound) and then place it near his foot. When his feet touch the toy, he will kick and push it away. When he kicks the toy, make a whee or whoo sound so that he is encouraged. Continue showing him toys and placing them near his feet so that he can kick them away.

Bouncing on the Lap

Before the baby has learned to stand and walk, help him develop the muscles in his legs - carry the baby, place your hands securely under his armpits and support him like this while placing him on your thighs. Bounce the baby up and down in a slow motion. Gradually, the baby will start doing the same on his own.

Massaging the Baby

If you notice a baby, you will see that they carry through a lot of movements -- they are constantly moving their hands and feet... this following exercise acts as a relief for their aching arms and feet.
While the baby is on his back, gently but firmly press his legs and arms (very gently), you'll find that the baby relaxes and starts making small grunting sounds, which is to show that they are enjoying themselves.
You can also lift their arms and take them over their head or fold their legs and press the knees against the stomach. All this helps release the gas as well as help soothe the aching muscles.

Language Development Activities

How These Help

These activities form the basis of understanding the varied aspects of language, and will, overtime, help the child develop languages.

Identifying Sounds

Every time you speak, take the infant's hand to your lips and let him feel the words as you say them. You can also place them on your throat as you speak so that he can feel the vibrations and the modulation of your voice.
Purse Your Lips
Stand in front of your child and purse your lips, then slowly release and purse them again. Continue doing this exercise and you will notice that the baby will slowly purse his lips as well. Introduce speech as you go along.
Start pointing at things and naming the object, along with finding an associating sound with the same.
Draw an Association
For example, if it's a dog -- you point to the dog, and say 'Woof Woof' and then 'Dog'. Over time, the baby will recognize the sound and learn to associate the same with the objects. You can start doing the same with animal, flower and/or object books as well.

Activities for Infants after 6-8 Months

How These Help

These activities help in developing several skills like motor skills, analytical abilities, problem-solving techniques and the like.
Place an assortment of toys that can be stacked one on top of the other before the infant.
Stacking Toys
Show him how they can be stacked, and encourage him to try doing the same. He might not understand the concept, but with time, he will learn to stack the toys by order.

Lids, Pots and Pans

Infants will love to experiment with colors, textures and different sounds. One of the safest way to feed this curiosity is to give them an assortment of pots, pans, spoons and lids (make sure they do not have any sharp or jagged edges).
The sheer variety will keep them engaged at several levels. For example, they might start out with banging the lids on the floor or the spoons on the pots and pans, and then slowly move to putting the pots and pans in and out of each other.

Support of Things

When the infant becomes a little older and starts to learn how to stand up, encourage this by providing him with several things that he can use for support, and always be by his side to help him out. Also, it goes without saying, but make sure that these things are not sharp or such that they will pose any danger or cause any harm to the infant.

Bag of Toys

Place a lot of toys of different textures (soft, solid, squishy) in a bag and hand it over to the infant. Use different objects like a wooden spoon, a sponge, a gel pack and a soft toy so that you provide a lot of variety.
Hand over the bag to the baby and ask him to pull out an object -- when he does this, identify the type of object that it is (is it soft, solid etc) and talk about the texture of the same. This will help the baby draw an association.
When the infant has become adept in identifying the different textures, you can ask him to choose an object by simply naming a texture and asking him to pick the corresponding object.

Dump and Fill

Place an empty basket along with a whole lot of toys on the side. Then slowly put in one toy after the other into the basket -- let the baby watch you the whole time. Encourage him to do the same. Once all the toys are in, reverse the exercise and get all the toys out. Encourage the baby to do the same as well. Then start off on another exercise and ask the baby questions like 'what should we put in next'?, 'should we put in the bear'?
All these activities, though seemingly fun, are designed such that they help develop the 5 senses of the infant along with garnering the varied skills required. And though they might seem very simple, they are necessary for the infant's mental and physical development. As a parent/guardian, it is your duty to make sure that the child is given enough time and stimulation to be able to develop into a healthy baby -- both physically and mentally, and it is exactly towards this goal that these activities aim.