Read an Excerpt
Brain Games for Your Child
By Robert Fisher
Souvenir PressCopyright © 2011 Robert Fisher
All rights reserved.
Brain Games for babies (0–3 years)
Your baby is born with a brain that contains all the elements of human intelligence. What he needs is help in developing this intelligence.
New born babies recognise their mother's voice but find it hard to focus their eyes or make much sense of the world in the first two or three months. They find out about the world largely through their eyes but their focus is limited to 8–10 inches (20–25cms) and anything nearer or further away appears blurred. After about 6 weeks the eyes focus but he will remain short-sighted for sometime after that. He starts by recognising faces, then gradually begins to see and understand the world around him. Help in this process of development by playing games from birth, such as Look at this, Watch it move and Peepo! (see Games 1–9).
Talk to your baby as you play with him. Respond to his infant coos with delighted replies. Repeat your syllables slowly in a high-pitched voice when you say 'Look at this!' or 'Clever baby!' Speak slowly with a singsong or up-down quality and a slightly higher pitch as it holds your baby's attention longer than the ordinary way of speaking. Experts call this way of talking 'parentese'.
By the age of three months a healthy baby takes increasing charge of its environment. It skilfully manipulates the behaviour of its mother and other caregivers so that it gets the attention, care and food it needs through a mixture of gaze, facial expression and voice (by crying). His brain develops through play and interaction with others. He will be fascinated by objects that move or make a noise, so hanging mobiles over where a baby is lying helps their visual interest and development. After three months introduce your child to new kinds of games (see Games 10–15).
Babies from one month often produce their first 'ooh' sounds from pleasurable experiences like play. Understanding what others say gradually develops from about 6 months. From 6 to 9 months babies can repeat vowel sounds like 'dadadada' which begin to sound like speech. Help by 'guessing' what he is trying to say. His first words are usually spoken after a year, with a burst of new words coming about the middle of the second year as he increasingly repeats what he hears. Talking to your child and encouraging him to respond can really help in his language development.
Play story games, singing games, rhyming games, action games, musical games, drawing games and other active games to develop your child's growing range of skills (for a list of skills see p5–6). These brain games, including pretend play will help prepare him for the next stage of development beginning around the age of three (see Games 15–30).
Brain Games for babies 0–3 years
1 Look at this!
2 Watch it move!
4 Sounds funny
5 Funny faces
6 Music making
7 Talk talk
8 Get that rhythm!
9 Touchy feely games
10 Surprise package
11 Take it out and put it back
12 Happy clap and finger rhymes
13 Finger and sock puppets
14 Play dough
15 Sort it out
16 Coming alive
17 Painting fun
18 Stories about me
19 Baby books
20 Puzzle shapes and pictures
21 Treasure hunts
22 Simon says
23 Build a tower
24 Pretend play
25 Musical stories
26 Let's dance!
27 Bath time games
28 Obstacle course
29 Hidden sounds
30 The tower of power
1 Look at this!
Age 0–18 months
Collect everyday items from around the house and show him two or three new ones every few days. Try to choose colourful and boldly patterned objects and things that you can make a noise with. Hold the object about a foot (30cm) from his face and ask him 'What's this?' Allow him time to explore the look of each object. Tell him what the object is and what you can do with it. Leave a display of two or three objects hanging above his cot so he can see and explore them in his own time.
Give him a crib gym to play with. You can make a crib gym by hanging brightly coloured objects from a secure cord or rod across his crib to stimulate his senses. He will begin by looking at bright interesting things, and later want to touch, strike, bat or swipe them with his hands.
Look at this!
Show your baby something and tell him what it is, for example: 'Look at this! It's a spoon!'. Remember to talk very slowly and clearly to him. He will not understand what you say but he will be learning about the sounds of talk and also about things in his strange new world.
Look at baby books together, for example books made of cloth or thick board. Choose books with simple clear pictures of everyday objects, point to a picture and say 'What's this?' And then talk to him about it and try to show him a real-life object that matches the picture.
Look at the light!
Carry your baby into a dark room and sit on a chair or floor. Turn on a flashlight and say 'Look at the light!' Slowly move the light around focusing on various objects, such as pictures or toys, and say what they are. If your baby is afraid of the dark, leave the door open or turn on a dim night light. Never shine the light in your baby's eyes.
Key skills: Develops eye and brain co-ordination, listening and early language skills.
2 Watch it move!
Once he can follow movement with his eyes play 'Watch it move!' Fix a little toy to a stick then move it from side to side, so he can follow it with his eyes, then try up and down, in and out and other directions.
Watch it move!
As he gains control of his head prop it up on some cushions then try to show him all the ways things can move – blow bubbles, play with balloons, roll and bounce balls, then show how balls can knock skittles down.
Bat a mobile
Give him a mobile he can bat with his fingers. Hang the items about 30cm from your babies eyes on the right or left of the crib At first he will look at it and not touch it. Later he will learn to suck it and bat it with his hand.
When your child is about 4 months old give him some good thick card books. He will then learn not only how to chew books but also learn how to turn the pages. The chewing will help his gums and the page-turning, long before he can read, will teach him that books are fun and pages can be moved.
Give it to me
Play a 'give it to me' game. Hold a soft toy just out of his reach and move it so that it 'dances' in front of him. If your baby makes a sound or moves in response give it to him. 'Here you are. You can play with ...' Then hold your hand out and say: 'Give it to me'.
Be a copy cat
Play copy cat games. Sit opposite your baby in his high chair. Give him a spoon. Take your own spoon and tap it on a tray. See if he copies what you do, if not take his hand and show him how to tap the spoon. Let him copy you wiggling your fingers, shaking your head, sticking your tongue out, touching ears, waving or clapping. Say what you are doing as you do it.
Later your baby will learn that objects exist not only when they move, but also when they are out of sight.
Key skills: Visual perception, hand and brain co-ordination
Show your baby how things though out of sight can stay in his mind, by playing Peepo! (or Peek-a-boo!). Cover your eyes with your hands, open them and cry 'Peepo!' or 'Boo!' Vary the game by peeping from either side of your hands and by moving to different positions. Try turning your head away then suddenly back, and hiding behind objects or furniture. He will soon learn to anticipate your reappearance.
Put a scarf over your head and say: 'Where has mummy/daddy gone?' Wait a few seconds, quickly remove the scarf, saying 'Peepo!' You can play 'Peepo' by hiding behind a chair, a door, the curtains or another person. Play 'Peepo' while doing various activities like housework, such as ironing or washing. Treat household chores as a chance to play Peepo games with your baby. Make some funny sounds while you do it.
Here it is!
Show your baby a toy, then hide it, for example under a blanket or behind your back asking 'Where did it go?' Pop it back out with a 'Here it is! It was under the cover/behind me!' Initially, it is better to be predictable so your baby can anticipate the toy's reappearance. Then try popping the toy up from some strange locations!
Where has it gone?
Hide a small object in one hand and play 'Which hand is it in?' A variation is to put a grape under a cup and say: 'Where has it gone?' then lift the cup and say: 'There it is!' Later, when he is about one, try hiding a grape under one of two cups. Then ask where it has gone. Then see if your child can hide an object under a cup for you.
Play other hiding games such as hiding toys under a cloth, and ask 'Where is Teddy hiding?'
Key skills: Develops perceptual, memory, predictive and problem solving skills.
4 Sounds funny
2 months on
Find things that make funny sounds such as rattles, bells, paper, glass objects or tin cans. Make sounds from different positions, for example shake a small container of rice to his left and then his right. Wait for him to look to find the source of the noise.
The funniest sounds may come from your voice. Humans can make a greater variety of sounds than any other animal. Your child can make any sound in any human language if he is encouraged. Test this out by making some funny sounds and see if he copies you.
Try saying some simple high sounds such as 'Wheeee!' and some low sounds such as 'Oooooh!' Call him or make some funny sounds from different parts of the room, from low down and high up, encouraging him to track your voice. See how many different funny sounds you can make?
The next time your baby gives you a prod make a funny noise, like 'buzz'. He'll probably try again, so repeat the sound every time he prods you. After some time try a different sound such as 'boop', 'beep' or 'pop' and pull a funny face. End the game by saying for example: 'You made me 'buzz'/'boop/'beep'. What a clever boy!' Vary the game by making different animal noises. Try seeing what noises your baby might want to make when you prod him.
Key skills: Listening, voice and pre-language skills
5 Funny faces
2 months on
Nothing is as interesting to a baby as a human face. He will smile at crude face patterns, such as two dots on a card, so draw some funny faces for him to look at. By eight weeks he will prefer real faces but may still smile at drawings.
By four months he will probably only smile at faces he knows. Amuse him not only by drawing but also by pulling some funny faces and by making funny sounds as you do. Try different facial expressions and sounds to develop your baby's vision and hearing. Here are some ideas: blink your eyes, stick out your tongue; cough or yawn; sing a song using big lip movements; make contortions with your mouth, poke your tongue out, waggle your ears and shake your head. Encourage him to mimic them.
From about 6 months hold him on your lap with a mirror. Ask him 'Who is that in the mirror?' show him that when he moves his reflection moves too, and that the funny face in the mirror is you! Give him a mirror to play with in his playpen.
As your child grows older, show him pictures of funny faces in books and magazines. Say what the face looks like eg 'sad', 'happy', 'old' and try to pull a similar kind of face yourself.
Older children can start enjoying and making their own face masks.
Key skills: face recognition, perceptual and language skills.
6 Counting games
2 months on
Begin counting games by saying 'one, two' when you are doing regular routines such as putting arms or legs into clothes or rocking him in your arms. Then go on to 'one, two, three' games, for example:
One, two, three up!
This is a fun baby game that will help anticipation skills as well as give your baby some exercise.
1 Lie your baby down on a soft flat surface such as the bed or blanket on the carpet.
2 Hold on to your baby's hands and wrists then count, 'One, two, three, Up!'
3 Gently pull your baby up to a sitting position. Smile and lower your baby back to the lying position then repeat.
4 After several repetitions your baby will anticipate the ride up. Alter the count to add variation.
Key skills: Anticipation, memory,
7 Making Music
2 months on
A young child was making an awful banging sound with a spoon on tins in the kitchen. 'What is that noise?' I shouted. 'It's only Tom,' replied my wife, 'he's composing his first piece of music!' Babies love making a noise. Encourage him as much as your nerves can stand, with some instruments that make musical sounds. Give him a rattle as soon as he can grasp, for example a plastic bottle with a screw top filled with beans and other things that make a sound that he can shake.
Bang the drum
After about 6 months, give him different kinds of 'drums' to hit, such as a saucepan with a wooden spoon. Play him music on your CD player so that he can bang and shout along.
Listen to this
Let him hear sounds made for example as by dropping different objects such a pan lid, wooden brick or small bell. Talk about and listen to natural sounds like a clock ticking, bird song, phone sounds, animal sounds, weather sounds, tap dripping and water splashes.
Encourage your child to listen to sounds around you and to sounds as you make them – clapping, tapping, banging, stamping, blowing, crying, laughing, scraping and so on and talk about the sounds he can hear (see also Musical Jars p64)
Key skills: Listening, music and language skills
7 Talk talk
2 months–3 years
The sound that babies prefer more than any other is the sound of speech. They turn to you when you speak and you keep your baby's brain active by talking. They turn to hear where the sound of speech, such as on the radio or TV, is coming from.
Talk about it
Talk to your baby all the time and everywhere. At bath-time touch and name each part of his body as you wash it. As you dress your child talk about the clothes you are putting on. As you cook or clean talk about what you are doing. Tell your baby some tales, you can even tell him your troubles knowing the sounds you make will be doing him some good.
It does not matter if your baby cannot understand what you are saying, he will learn speech if you do not talk to him, but he will learn it quicker if you do.
A conversation can be a kind of game that you try to keep going with your child. From about 18 months when he learns to talk, build on his language by trying to create a new conversation every day. Use whole sentences, and keep the conversation going by asking questions and making up stories.
Invite him to become part of the game. Try to turn whatever he says into a conversation. For example if your child says 'There's a cat' say for example 'Yes, look at its a shiny black coat and long whiskers' 'Does it look like grandma's cat?' 'Do you remember when we saw that snowy white cat?' or 'I wonder what the cat is thinking?'
Key skills: Connecting ideas, stimulating imagination, developing language skills
8 Get that rhythm!
2 months on
Sharing rhythms and rhymes with your baby will help boost his language skills. All babies respond to rhythm. The first rhythm he is aware of is his mother's heartbeat. Before he can talk the rhythm of speech can be heard in his babbling. He will love rhythmical movement, being rocked, rhythmical sounds like rhymes and rhythmical music like lullabies. Bounce your baby on your knee in time to music or a favourite song, or hold him in your arms and dance with him around the room. Give him some rhythm!
Nursery rhyme song and dance
Nursery rhymes mimic the rhythms of speech. So say and sing some nursery rhymes regularly to your baby. Rock him, or dance with him in your arms, in time to the words that you say or sing.
At about 6 months you can start adding actions to words, at about a year he will be able to join in with actions to rhymes such as 'The wheels on the bus go round and round'. If you are too busy to sing songs or say rhymes then buy a CD for your baby to listen to.
From the age of two put actions to the rhythm of nursery rhymes. Start with familiar spoken rhymes like 'Humpty Dumpty' and move on to action songs like 'Here we go round the mulberry bush'. Encourage them to sing the words with you to help them keep to the rhythm.
A good example of an action song is:
This is the way the ladies ride
Bounce baby up and
Trip trop, trip trop, trip trop. down on your knee.
This is the way the gentlemen
Bounce slower but more
ride Gall-op, gallop, gallop. vigorously.
This is the way the farmer rides
Bounce baby from side
Hobble-dee, hobble-dee. And to side Open legs and
down in the ditch! let baby slide
Key skills: Rhythmic, musical, prediction, listening and language skills
9 Touchy feely games
2 months on
Give your baby different objects to touch. Put into his hands objects that feel different; hard, soft, firm, squashy, silky, coarse, cold, warm, wet, dry, smooth, furry – anything he can safely handle. A baby's fist does not fully relax until one month after birth. Help him to hold things. Begin by putting your fingers in his grasp. Later place rattles and small toys in his hands (make sure that none of the things you give him can be swallowed).
Excerpted from Brain Games for Your Child by Robert Fisher. Copyright © 2011 Robert Fisher. Excerpted by permission of Souvenir Press.
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