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What are the best activities to boost baby’s brain development?

What babies need most is to interact with their parents in a loving, warm, joyful way.

What are the best activities to boost baby’s brain development?

Babies need the presence of an adult who is responsive to their needs, but it doesn't benefit them to have ALL of life revolve around them. Human babies are designed to develop by interacting with their loved ones and observing family and community life.


That means what babies need most is to interact with their parents in a loving, warm, joyful way, and to observe them as they go about the tasks of daily life.

Share your life with your baby, but don't focus on her every single moment. In other words, she needs to know that you'll be there for her if she needs you. But it's not helpful to her to feel that she's always the focus of attention.

You might think of this as responsively parenting your baby. You respond to her needs and set up her environment so that she can explore and thrive. But don't make every moment about her—that kind of pressure would make any child anxious!

Being responsive to your baby's needs is important, in the sense that you feed her when she's hungry and create the opportunity for her to nap when she's tired, and let her explore by watching the bug on the sidewalk. But you don't want her to feel that you're often looking at her and saying "What shall we do now?"

She needs to know that someone bigger is in charge; it would feel scary to her to feel like she's calling the shots.

Instead, set up a schedule that will work for her, and be sure she has the security of knowing what to expect ("In the morning mom does the dishes while I play nearby with my toys; then we go out to do errands.")

Then, while you go through your day, warmly engage with your baby.

A baby's brain does not need sensory bombardment; she will find plenty to stimulate her cognitive development in the activities of daily life. But a baby's brain does need to be interacting with her special people during most of her waking hours.

Babies use their parents as their secure base from which to explore the world, and they look to you to know how to interpret what they experience. As your baby interacts with you, his brain makes the neural connections that will shape it for life.

A baby's intellectual development is built on the foundation of emotional security.

That means your primary attention needs to be on enjoying her, engaging with her, responding to her, showing her the world, and reassuring her when she expresses concern about things.

Studies show that infants who are the most advanced intellectually, emotionally and physically are the babies whose mothers are more attentive, responsive, and warmly engaging with them.

She definitely does not need you to focus on her intellectual development in the sense of counting, ABC's, or any conventional intellectual tasks.

She will find great intellectual stimulation in games of hide 'n seek, in pulling all the pans out of your cupboard, and in seeing the world from the safety of a backpack or baby carrier as you grocery shop or interact with other people.

You may have heard that reading to a baby is good for her, and it is. But even better is talking to and with her. Involve her and speak with her as you move through your daily tasks: folding laundry, washing dishes, cooking dinner.

When babies hit the crawling stage, they'll want to explore everything. It's worth mentioning that babies who are told "No" a lot learn not to think inside the box.

If you want to give your daughter's intellect a boost, baby-proof well and supervise, but give her curiosity free reign to explore.

It will mean a couple of months of restoring your books to the shelves every day, but she'll soon be past this stage and onto the next, having concluded that the world is well worth exploring and nothing need stop her.

Babies love changes of scenery.

If he's tired of sitting in his seat mouthing his toys, take him for a walk.

If she's squirmy in her sling, let her play on the floor, practicing turning over and hoisting herself up onto her hands and legs.

If he's not happy being left to his own devices while you clean the bathroom, take a break and let him play with the water with you.

Babies love to see how things work, which is second in fascination to them only to interactions with their parents.

Should you play brain development games with baby?

There's certainly no harm in it, but make it interactive and age appropriate--which means sensory, not just cognitive. Sing to her, play pat-a-cake type games, massage her, play music of different kinds for her, dance with her. Make sure that she gets plenty of opportunities to see other babies and children.

If you run out of ideas, spend half an hour at the bookstore browsing the baby shelves. There are a lot of books out there that offer specific ideas for games, that you probably don't need to own to be inspired by. I did notice recently that used copies of Julie Hagstrom's classic Games Babies Play were on sale online. (She also wrote Games Toddlers Play.)

Should you let your baby watch educational videos?

Experts warn against it. First, babies who watch any video are spending less time interacting with actual humans, so studies show that their language development is delayed and we suspect there are other delay effects.

Second, watching screens changes brain development. We don't know enough yet, but screen use in the early years when the brain is taking shape so rapidly has definitely been associated with shorter concentration spans.

Making every moment count is an admirable idea, but you don't want to teach your baby that being productive every moment is what matters most.

Making every moment with your daughter high quality should not mean making every moment busy. Babies don't benefit from over-stimulation.

They need plenty of interaction with us, but they also need plenty of time to play with their toes, listen to music, stare at the dust motes in a shaft of light, and just figure out how their own muscles work.

They don't need us at those times to rush in and justify our own existence by teaching them anything or occupying them; they're already occupied. All babies need time to play in the security of our presence, but without our interference. Learning to do that is an important developmental accomplishment.

Enjoy your baby and treasure this time with her. Knowing we enjoy them is probably what babies need from us most of all.

Whether they're entertaining themselves or you're playing together, here are some of our top picks for developing brains.

Janod rocking penguin toy

Janod penguin toy

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Rocking Penguin Toy

Push the penguin and watch him tumble! This simple and engaging toy helps little ones explore cause and effect while offering visual stimulation.

$15

Janod confetti musical activity table

Janod confetti musical table

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Confetti Musical Activity Table

Ideal for sing-a-longs and solo concerts, it's perfectly sized for little ones to sit under while using the wooden mallets to play the xylophone, a cymbal and drum.

$28

Janod wooden beads rattle

Janod wooden beads rattle

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Wooden Beads Rattle, natural finish

The rattle is made to perfectly fit those tiny hands so your child can stimulate their sensory development as they watch, listen to and handle the rattle.

$15

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14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With fall in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in outside-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Detective set

Plan Toys detective set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

Minimize smoke exposure.

Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

Do your best to filter the air.

According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

"Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

"COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

Most importantly, don't panic.

In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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