Babies develop new skills at incredible speed. In the first month alone baby will become more alert and responsive, gradually becoming more coordinated and recognizing and responding to you. Below are a few ideas of things you can do to help encourage your baby's development at different stages:
Birth to One Month
When baby is in the bath, while supporting him or her, splash the water with his or her hands and feet. This stimulates baby's sense of touch.
Stick out your tongue at baby every 20 seconds when he or she is looking at you. In just a few minutes baby will copy cat and you will see a little tongue sticking out a you.
Light and Dark
Baby still has poor vision and is therefore most interested in things with a strong contrast. Try placing baby near venetian blinds that are slightly opened - he or she will be mesmerized. Draw some black and white faces or patters and place them in spots that baby can spend time looking at them.
To help sharpen baby's visual skills, use sounds and motion. For example hum and bob your head side-to-side while baby is positioned looking towards you. The sound and motion will stimulate baby's brain and he or she will begin to track both sound and motion.
One to Two Months
In addition to last months activity you will want to add in a variety of Sensory Stimulation
Tickle your baby's palms with a variety of textures. Anything soft and furry is sure to amuse.
Sing songs to baby and at the end give your baby a tickle. Interactive songs like "Head and shoulders, knees and toes," make baby aware of his or her body. Baby will soon learn to anticipate the tickle through repetition.
Sight and Sound
Prop baby up in a bouncy chair or carseat where he or she has a good view of the room. Sing and talk to baby as you move from place to place. This is really an extension of a tracking game but it will help enhance baby's coordination of sight and sound.
Two to Three Months
Kicking and Touching
Baby likes to kick and will do so with a little encouragement. Place baby on a variety of different textures, fur, silk, velvet, water, cold sheets, warm blankets, etc. Baby will rub his or her hands and legs all over to take in his or her new surroundings.
Play or sing songs to baby while tapping the beat on baby's tummy or bouncing him or her on your knee to the beat. Baby enjoys repetition and will be delighted by the interaction.
More Tracking Games
Continue to encourage baby's sight and tracking skills. Roll a ball or have a wind-up toy walk across baby's line of sight. Remember to keep the object within two feet of baby as his or her sight still does not extend much beyond this.
Three to Four Months
Puppets, Animals and Dolls
Babies love faces and you can encourage the strength in their arms by entertaining them with toys that have pronounced faces. Babies may act unsure for a moment or two but they will want to reach out and grab whatever you have in your hand. This will strengthen baby's muscles and increase dexterity.
Take your singing to a new level. Sing songs with repetitive rhymes and actions. Baby will begin to anticipate the actions which helps him or her understand cause and effect. If you get tired of singing, allow baby to play with a rattle or musical toy that mimics the same concept - if I do this, this will happen...
Four to Five Months
Baby will be rolling front to back and back to front, if not he or she will be very curious about making this move. Encourage physical activity, rolling, kicking, reaching, etc., by placing baby on his or her tummy and back and surrounding him or her with stimulating toys such as bells at the feet and black and white toys just slightly out of reach at the head or hands.
Baby will enjoy the element of surprise and peek-a-boo will help him or her understand that an object is still there even when you can't see it (object permanence). Simply use a blanket or sheet to cover your face or baby's face or even a toy, say "peek-a-boo" and reveal the hidden baby, toy or yourself. You can also say "where's my baby?" or "where is Mr. Bear?" Be sure to play with a lot of excitement baby is sure to smile with delight and bob with anticipation.
Five to Six Months
Press Buttons, Stack Blocks or Rings
Show baby toys with buttons that cause flashing lights or sounds. Stack blocks or rings for baby and he or she will be quick to reach out and push them over. Baby is becoming more dexterous and these toys will help hand eye coordination and help baby understand cause and effect.
Clap Your Hands
As baby becomes more coordinated he or she will learn to clap his or her hands, it is a little early yet for this, but never too early to encourage it. Clap your hands to "if you're happy and you know it.." and then sing a line and take baby's hands and clap them together. You don't have to constantly be singing, you can simply say "hooray," and clap your hands in excitement. Before you know it baby will be doing it back to show his or her excitement when you least expect it.
Because you have dedicated so much time to encouraging the understanding of cause and effect, baby will enjoy a game of fetch. By fetch I mean when you place baby in his or her highchair with a handful of toys, he or she will enjoy dropping toys one by one over the edge and watching you pick them up. This may be annoying over and over again but it is important and enjoyable to baby as it encourages object tracking, hand-eye-coordination and cause and effect.