In the first six months, even though it seems that the baby does very little on its own, it flies at the speed of light. From the first regression of sleep, to a growth spurt, or from a sprouting tooth to a developmental leap. Sometimes you might think that the first year is all one big leap. It’s natural that such sudden and big changes can really affect your baby’s mood. That’s why it’s so useful to take a moment to pause and think about what might be making your little one irritable. Being able to identify the causes will not only help us, but also help us get through the harder stages!
Spikes in the show, also often called wonder weeks. Have you ever noticed that one morning your little one wakes up from a nap and suddenly behaves, is interested or coos in a completely different way? Looks like an operating system update is installed? That’s what developmental leaps do! Babies are often more irritable during these periods because their brains are processing a lot of new information, everything in their environment is changing very quickly, they are trying to understand, comprehend and remember everything, and they just get tired and frustrated.
Knowing what developmental leaps are happening when and what your child is learning at the time will help us to identify them. Important to know: developmental leaps start on the date of term (not birth). If you notice a jump, offer your baby activities that are of interest to him or her at the time, and make time for “training” during the day, because once they discover new things that interest them, they want to train and learn more and more. So let’s create space for that intrinsic motivation to flourish.
- Week 5: sensations. After the first month of life, the baby gets stronger and slowly starts to take an interest in its surroundings. First, simply through the senses: what your hands feel when you touch your mother, what your eyes see, what sounds you hear in your environment. The environment is full of new sensations, and they still need to be perceived, processed and absorbed in your head. That is what the major work of the first developmental leap is all about. At this stage, try not to overstimulate your baby – choose more quiet activities, play with only one toy at a time or show only one picture. Take your time and go slowly. Soothe your baby in as quiet an environment as possible with dimmed light.
- Week 8: recurrences. During this developmental leap, babies discover patterns, textures and repetitions. Shadows dancing on the wall or ceiling, a striped blouse or a polka-dotted bouncer – the toddler is increasingly interested in colours, patterns, repeating objects and sounds or actions (often his or her own – a moving hand or foot). Interestingly, it’s not just vision that’s active during this leap – they are also increasingly discovering repetition in their other senses. For example, waving your hand with a rattle – the same image and sound over and over again.
- Week 12: movement. From being a rather slow, clumsy baby, by the third or fourth month of life, the baby is becoming faster and more flexible. Little hands and feet are increasingly active in the air and interested in toys hanging overhead or placed nearby. During this exercise, not only the ability to move itself is improved, but also the perception of movement in the environment: a person approaching, a sound, or even the changing intonations of a voice.
- Week 19: the cause-effect relationship. This leap is about new neural connections and awareness of our actions: if I let go of a toy, it will fall, if I shout loudly, my mother will come, if I lift my leg, I will reach out and move the toy. And while these seem like basic actions to us, they help the baby to become more aware of the world around him and of his ability to influence his environment.
The fits and starts come and go, but what to do with a toddler on normal days? I won’t tell you about the sleepovers, the talks, the book-reading, the watching the world go by and the independent boredom of the baby, because I’m sure you’re already doing that! Instead, I’ll share what to look out for when playing together – what aspects of your little one’s education and development you can observe, and how to make it easier to choose activities, toys and tools that interest them.
- 0-3 months. Does the baby seem to be eating and sleeping? And while little ones may indeed appear to be slow explorers at first glance, there is a lot going on in their development, even with the smallest of movements, peeks and listens. Notice how their attention is drawn to brighter objects, patterns or contrasts, how long they can watch their hands, trying to unclench their fists, then hitting the palms of their hands in front of their eyes, or how they are slowly checking more and more with their hands and mouths, and not just their eyes.
At the halfway point in the development of a 6-month-old baby, these three months are primarily about strengthening vision and concentrating your gaze. Little by little, babies are discovering their hands and learning how to control them, and their muscles are also getting stronger – paying special attention to their neck muscles when lying on their tummies will help them learn how to hold their heads firmly. As the first developmental leap shows, there is a strong focus on the senses, so oral cognition can be very active (everything goes into the mouth), and puppies can be keenly and actively interested in different sounds.
Try contrasting cards or a carousel above the baby’s head, with black and white contrast for the first few months, then more colours can be introduced, starting with red. The mirror will always be a source of inexhaustible activity – placed so that the baby can see itself when lying on the ground, it will study its own and its mother’s images, watch how its body moves, and know what thoughts “move” its limbs. Stimulate the senses by letting your little one touch and explore different textures and fabrics – just a variety of scraps or clothes from your wardrobe will do. You can make fun rattles for different sounds using used plastic bottles and different fillers: beans, peas, pebbles, rice etc.
- 3-6 months. As a child grows, so does their activity and mobility. Toddlers’ intrinsic motivation and curiosity encourages them to learn to roll over, sit down and somehow keep moving towards the desired goal – a toy or their mother. The hands are also becoming more precise, both in grasping objects and in bringing the hands together in the midline, trying to pass an object from one hand to the other or strengthening hand-eye coordination and bringing all objects of interest to the mouth. Babies also continue to take an active interest in different sounds and textures, further developing their senses and learning about the world through them.
The cause-effect relationship learned in the fourth developmental leap also dictates many new and exciting activities: throwing, placing, dumping, inserting, pulling, inviting, and manipulating objects in any way.
At this stage of development for a 6-month-old baby, offer games with balls of different sizes and textures – not only are they fun to explore, but rolling them helps them to learn about distances and trajectories, and encourages them to move themselves. Hand-eye coordination and dexterity can be developed with easy-to-grab rattles or weighted Montessori discs. The same rattles, bells or small chimes will be used for auditory stimulation and exploring cause-effect relationships, while the blocks can be used for banging, building and demolishing. However, it is likely that you will be in charge of building and the little ones will be in charge of demolition. Try books with flaps or fabrics, or “ku-ku” games with palms, scarves or hiding objects under a blanket. Developing the senses of touch can be made fun by introducing your baby to hot-cold water and ice-cream at different (safe) temperatures.
Most importantly, remember that toddlers are really learning a lot and intensively, so it’s important to let them rest, be independent and do what they want to do, even if it’s just lying down and looking at the ceiling. I guarantee that at that moment my brain will “explode”, processing all the information I have gathered during the day. And if sometimes the baby doesn’t seem to be interested in everything you’re offering, it could be a sign that it’s just too much for it at the moment. Let them explore the environment, discover what activity or toy interests them. If you observe your child a little bit, what activities or toys he keeps coming back to, what he wants to spend most of his time doing, keep an eye on your child and his needs – this will help you to choose both activities and tools.
Author of this article: Miglė Rimeikė
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