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Activities that Promote Baby’s Brain Development during First Year of Life

written by: Jessica Hamilton • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 5/2/2016

Activities that are fun, simple, meaningful and developmentally appropriate can nurture brain development in all developmental areas. Read on to see research-based activities that have been proven to nurture the brain and help baby grow.

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    Activities that Promote Baby’s Brain Development during First Year of Life The brain grows and develops faster during the first three years of life faster than at any other time. Babies are interacting with the world around them from the minute they are born.

    Through their senses, babies take in and process information to figure out how to exist in their environment. Babies’ brains consist of a hundred billion brain cells called neurons. These neurons make millions of connections that are the basis for cognitive development. These connections are triggered when babies are provided an environment in which they can learn through their senses and physical movement.

    Caregivers play an integral role in the supporting and promoting of babies’ brain development through interaction and play.

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    0-6 Months

    • Rock your baby. Swaying your baby from side to side helps to develop awareness of body and space. Hold baby on both the left and the right so he/she can experience the sense of physical touch on both sides of their body equally. This also is the perfect distance for the baby to gaze at the caregiver’s face.
    • Play music. Baby’s hearing pathways are developed further than their vision pathways. Play soft, smooth music frequently (or nature sounds) to support hearing development and sound recognition.
    • Give a massage. Massage helps to stimulate the central nervous system. Massage baby slowly to help these pathways mature. Use lotion and lay baby on a warm towel. Always sing or talk softly while massaging gently. Tummy time is good throughout the first year of baby’s life!
    • Spend some face time. Talk to baby while looking into their eyes. Some researchers say baby’s vision focuses best about 8-12 inches away (just the right distance when breastfeeding!). Research also shows that babies can recognize mom’s face as early as 2-4 weeks. Make various facial expressions for baby to imitate, such as smiling and sticking out your tongue. Eye-to-eye contact helps to strengthen vision-brain connections. Research shows that eye contact is baby’s first attempt at communication and that healthy babies’ brains engage when they look into someone’s eyes.
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    6-12 Months

    • Explore and touch. Let baby explore with toys that are colorful and make sounds. Cause and effect toys teach babies that they can make something happen independently. This piques their curiosity and helps to support attention to task. Rattles, pots and pans, and light-up toys are great ideas to support sensory play and exploration.
    • Get moving. Set up pillows to encourage climbing and crawling. Call baby from across the room to give motivation for transitional movement. Climbing to a standing position on safe furniture is the first step to cruising (walking sideways while holding onto a table). Place favorite objects on top of the small table to encourage baby to reach and climb.
    • Figure things out. Give baby a container with a hole cut in the lid. Provide small (large enough to prevent a choking hazard) to place into the hole, such a large pompoms or sensory balls. Help baby to figure out a way to get the toy back out, by taking off the lid or finding another hole to pull it out. Shape sorters or stacking/ nesting blocks are a fun way to incorporate early problem solving. Matching games and simple large piece puzzles are great, too!
    • Just dance. Bouncing to the rhythm in music and shaking simple musical instruments helps baby to develop hand and arm control, body awareness, trunk control, and sound discrimination. Playing both slow and fast music helps baby to differentiate and move their bodies accordingly. In addition, babies always love to hear simple finger plays and hearing the rhyming songs and sound differences helps develop pre-literacy skills.
    • Take a peek. Playing peek-a-boo helps babies learn object permanence and imitation. Make funny faces and surprise baby! Over time, baby will develop the skill of anticipation and begin to be aware of what you are ready to do. They may start copying you by covering up their own faces. Playing this in front of a mirror is always another way to keep it interesting and fun!
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    Have a Blast

    Get your baby moving! Active movement is the basis for early exploration and learning in babies. Learning by doing and using their senses triggers cognitive development. And remember, have fun!


  • Sasse, M. (2010). Active Baby, Healthy Brain. The Experiment, NY.
  • Infant Brain Stimulation: How Playing with your Baby makes them Smart. Retrieved from on April 19, 2016.
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