Games for infant cognitive development

Increase your baby's brain power by playing smart. Engage your baby in fun activities to help increase her cognitive development.

The first year of your child's life lays the groundwork for future cognitive development and is an important time for learning. In this time, children begin to form and understand language, rationalize cause and effect relationships and recognize their surroundings. Parents can help advance their children's development through a series of activities that encourage these skills.

1. Imitation. Babies learn primarily by observing and imitating others. By encouraging your child to mimic you, she will learn to develop facial expressions and language skills. Even before your child speaks, she is listening and trying to mimic your speech. When your child begins to coo at around 3 months, imitate her noises back. Your child will be delighted, and it will serve as a reinforcement of verbal communication.

2. Picture Cards. Infants are stimulated by a variety of patterns and shapes. For your newborn, create black and white picture cards with sharp patterns and images, such as a bulls-eye. Try different images and see which ones your child responds to best. At around 3 months of age, try adding bright colors to the picture cards for some additional stimulation. The picture cards can be created on your computer and mounted on a piece of sturdy cardboard. Remember, these cards aren't toys, so always hold the pictures for your baby's viewing.

3. Peek-a-Boo. This is a fun game that helps improve baby's cognitive development by helping your child understand object permanence""the concept that although the hidden toy is out of sight, it still exists. A few different variations of the game include hiding your face behind your hands, hinding behind the corner of a doorway or putting an object under a towel and letting your child pull the towel off.

4. ABC Blocks. ABC blocks offer a variety of developmental benefits for babies. Parents can help familiarize their children with the alphabet by pointing and asking their child to identify the letters. Young babies can play with blocks as soon as they begin grasping objects, and soon will learn how to stack, create towers and demolish""a great lesson in cause and effect.

5. Interaction. The easiest (and most beneficial) way to increase your baby's cognitive development is by interacting with her on a daily basis. Take your baby for a walk and discuss what is happening around you. Point out the flowers, a ladybug or a loud car. By discussing your surroundings, you are increasing your baby's vocabulary and exposing her senses to different environments.

Reading is another positive form of interaction. By reading to your baby, even when she can't understand the story, you are giving her more opportunities to strengthen her language skills. Spend time looking at the pictures and pointing out the different objects and situations to give a visual reinforcement to what she is hearing.

It's important to remember that you are your baby's best teacher during the first couple years. Make a point to turn everyday activities into opportunities to learn. Count the number of carrots on her plate, have her identify the colors of her plastic cups and let her smell different scents while you are cooking. By exercising her senses on a daily basis, you'll be doing your part in fully developing her cognitive skills.

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