What Babies Really Need: Creating a Stimulating Home Environment for Babies
Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 11, 2010
If babies don’t need curriculum, what do they need? Babies really need only two things: 1). Loving, responsive, and consistent care from their parents, and 2). A stimulating (or enriching) home environment.
The most important thing babies need is their parents. No substitute caregiver or expensive “curriculum” can replace this need. During their first year, babies are bonding with their parents, and learning that they can trust their parents to take care of them. From this trust grows security—and security is essential for normal personality development.
Loving care: Babies need to know that they are loved. We communicate our love to them in many ways; by gently caring for them, through appropriate touch, and by the tone of voice we use when we talk to them. Remember to make eye contact with your baby, and engage her in “conversations” (she makes a sound, you reply; you then wait for her to respond again.)
Responsive care: Some developmental “experts” encourage parents to deny their instincts when it comes to their babies—even newborn babies. They encourage parents to strictly schedule their baby’s feedings, and make them “cry it out” at night until the clock says its time for them to wake up and/or be fed. Babies don’t function by the clock. (Dr. Penelope Leach has made the news lately by stating that crying it out damages babies brains…it’s common sense that such a strict schedule might be emotionally damaging for babies.) For nursing babies, it is especially dangerous (some parents have actually starved their nursing infants to death by keeping them on a strict feeding schedule….nursing is a balance between supply and demand.) Instead, follow your heart and respond to your baby’s cries. Remember that your baby has emotional and social needs as well as physical needs, and give your baby the time and attention he deserves by letting him be closely attached to you. Also remember that comforting your baby and bonding with him are legitimate reasons to let him nurse, even if “he shouldn’t be hungry yet.”
Some “experts” believe that babies can be spoiled by too much attention…especially if they are held too much. But in my experience, babies can’t be spoiled. In fact, by giving them the emotional attachment they need while they are small, we are giving them what they need to grow up to be independent, self-confident and secure. Besides, studies have shown that babies who are held more cry less…and isn’t that every parent’s goal?
Consistent Care/Routines: Too strict of a schedule is problematic not only for baby, but for you as well. Instead of trying to adopt a strict schedule, try a simple routine. Instead of a timed-to-the-minute schedule that can become oppressive, a routine is simply an “order of events” for the day. It can be flexible, reflecting baby’s needs and your needs as well. This allows us to be consistent in our care-giving, while allowing for interruptions to our routine such as illness, travel, etc.
Babies, like preschoolers, come to depend on that sense of what comes next. Routines keep babies on an even keep emotionally, and helps prevent meltdowns. (See the tab 4 R’s: Routine.) If you really are serious about enriching baby’s development, consider planning to include some of the elements listed below under “a stimulating home environment” during your baby’s quiet and alert times.
Repetition: Babies thrive on repetition. They don’t need a “curriculum” full of 20 million different board books, lullabies, baby-games, nursery rhymes, etc; instead, choose a few of your favorite elements and include them, a few at a time, every day (as part of your “stimulating home environment”.) Remember, babies love and need repetition, so use only a few at a time.
A Stimulating Home Environment: Babies don’t need a pre-planned curriculum to learn. We can easily provide them with all they need. Here are some of the most important elements:
~Routine: Bring baby into your daily routine, talking to her about everything you are doing.
~Floor time: Babies need time on the floor every day to help them improve their muscle control and coordination. Try these ideas: Place baby on his tummy near a shatter proof mirror, or place colorful toys, toys with black and white designs, or board books with pictures of faces near baby. These encourage baby to lift his head to take a look around. You can also try laying baby on his back underneath a mobile or baby gym.
~Offer your baby a change of perspective: Alternate baby between different places and types of safe environments so that she can get a new perspective on the world. Besides the floor, try a baby swing, bouncer seat (we used these a lot on top of the kitchen island while I was cooking), saucer seat, Johnny Jump-Up, etc as is appropriate for your baby’s age and development. Babies love being outside as well—sometimes nothing else will soothe them. Just remember to keep your baby out of the direct sun (we trained our babies to wear hats from infancy, to protect their tender skin and eyes.) Even providing a new quilt for baby to lie on during floor time changes baby’s view of the world.
~Play time: Our babies need us to play with them every day. Traditional baby games such as Peek-a-boo, How Big is Baby?, etc are not only fun but bonding and learning experiences for babies. For some great ideas, visit your local Gymboree class, or invest in one of these books:
- Songs and Games for Babies, by by Susan Hodges
- Gymboree’s The Parent’s Guide to Play, by Dr. Wendy S. Masi
- Wonderplay by Fretta Reitzes
~Reading Aloud: Have you started reading aloud to your baby everyday? Reading aloud is one of the most important things parents can do to help their baby learn. Here are a few of my favorites for the first year:
- Big Red Barn, Good Night Moon, Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown
- Very Busy Spider, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- Pat the Bunny, by Dorothy Kunhardt
- My First Book of Sounds, by Melanie Bellah (Little Golden Book)
- The Foot Book, by Dr. Suess
~ Singing: Do you sing to your baby? Babies need to be sung to everyday, no matter how bad we think we sound. Singing to babies helps them to develop their language and listening skills, musical skills, and more. Here are some of our favorites:
- Lullabies: Jesus Loves Me, You are My Sunshine, Rock-a-bye Baby, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, Hush Little Baby, Brahms Lullaby, etc.
- Action songs and lap songs: Wheels on the Bus (circle hands or feet), Row Your Boat (circle baby’s feet), The Noble Duke of York, Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes (touch correct body parts), and Open, Shut Them (since babies can’t open and close their hands yet, do this by spreading their arms way out, and then crossing them over their chest for “shut them”), This is the Way the Ladies Ride, and so on; and bath time songs such as “This is the Way We Wash our Hair” etc (my favorite source is Joanie Bartel’s Bathtime Magic ~~all of hers are good. I also recomend Raffi’s Singable Songs for the Very Young.)
Final Helps: Here are some articles to help you become a more responsive parent to you baby:
More about Dr. Leach & crying babies (both sides of the issue) http://www.wikio.co.uk/news/Penelope+Leach
Dr. Sear’s site on attachment parenting (remember to keep this balanced…no one can hold their baby all the time, and co-sleeping has it’s own pro’s/cons/safety issues): http://www.askdrsears.com/html/10/T130300.asp
You Tube Videos on Dunston’s baby language (how to understand your baby’s cries–it’s worth a try!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6CFSGAueyo
Dunston’s own website: http://www.dunstanbaby.com
Remember, what your baby needs most is not some new “educational” toy or “curriculum”; your baby needs YOU.
© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.