Giving your child a head start in learning

Singing and playing with your baby teaches them about language and communication.
Singing and playing with your baby teaches them about language and communication. Photo: Getty Images

How's this for an amazing fact: your baby will develop at a faster rate in their first year than any other year of life. Babies are naturally curious so stimulating their enquiring minds is both healthy and enjoyable for them. Foster your baby's desire to learn about the world around them with play-based learning activities from birth onwards. It's never too early to encourage a love of learning with interaction that is both educational and fun!

Communicating

Talking, reading and singing to your baby teaches them about language and communication. From birth, expose your baby to a variety of sounds – from playing music on CDs and singing nursery rhymes, to reading books aloud and having conversations with your baby. They won't fully understand what you're saying at first, but their brain will be absorbing the language and 'storing' the words for later use.

You may notice your baby watching your mouth intently as you read or speak to them. This helps them learn about speech – and when they gurgle and coo back at you, they are actually making their first attempts at conversation! Listen and respond to these sounds to show you acknowledge what they're trying to say.

Looking

In the early months before they are mobile, your baby will learn mainly by looking and listening. Newborns are near-sighted, so choose fabric books and mobiles with high-contrast black-and-white images to stimulate sight. Later, they'll learn to focus their vision and will be drawn to bold primary colours. Choose a play gym or mat that has bright dangling toys in contrasting tones that they can gaze at (and soon learn to swipe and grasp).

Examining human faces is a fascinating learning experience for your baby, so a play mirror is a perfect early toy. At first your baby will think they are looking at another child, but they will soon learn that it is actually their own reflection! Looking in the mirror is visually stimulating and helps your baby to focus on objects and track images. It's also a useful way to teach facial features and body parts - sit with your baby and look in the mirror together, then touch each body part as you name it.

Discovering

Older babies will thrive on opportunities for self-discovery. Learning how an object works is a great mental challenge – give your child the chance to manipulate an age-appropriate toy until they have mastered it, then watch them repeat the process over and over again as they strive to perfect it. Supervised independent play will teach your baby about cause and effect, too. For example, "When I shake this maraca, it makes a sound!"

Your baby will also learn about touch when they explore toys with different textures, sensory blankets, and 'touch and feel' board books. Mouthing objects is a way that babies learn about taste, shape and texture, so carefully choose safe toys that can be sucked and chewed!

Turn everyday outings into learning opportunities. For example, an excursion to the park is a chance for your baby to learn about new sights, sounds, fragrances and textures – look at insects, smell flowers, listen to dogs woof, feel bark on a tree. Similarly, describing activities to your baby as you go about your daily life develops their comprehension skills and understanding of the big wide world.