By Cheryl Harbour
Whether you’re at the very start of your GRANDbaby’s life or approaching that one-year milestone,
you can make some New Year’s resolutions for how to be the best possible influence – and have the most fun. Just like adults, babies benefit from exercise, music, and a positive attitude (especially yours).
Movin’ and Groovin’
The more scientists study and understand brain development, the more they see the roots for abilities, habits, and attitudes in an infant’s daily experience. In talking, reading, and singing to babies, adults help stimulate neural connections that support brain development. Physical activity is vital too. Experts recommend babies spend significant time OUT of strollers, car seats, infant seats, and playpens.
You may remember from raising your own children – physical activity can improve a baby’s mood and her nap quality. Early exercise and movement also help develop connections between the brain and muscles, making physical activity easier as the child grows. That can safeguard against obesity. So, if you’re a healthy and energetic grandparent, include some exercise in your time with your GRANDbaby.
The Society of Health and Physical Educators has developed guidelines for infants and toddlers as part of a program they’ve named “Active Start.” Read more about their guidelines. http://www.shapeamerica.org/standards/guidelines/activestart.cfm
Here are a few easy ways to interact physically:
- Passive limb exercises
Before your GRANDbaby has control of his own muscles, you can do gentle exercises on a quilt on the floor. Gently stretch arms out to the side, over the head, and across the chest. Do a slow “bicycle” movement with your GRANDbaby’s legs.
- Who doesn’t love Tummy Time?
Since babies sleep on their backs, they need to spend some waking time on their tummies to develop strong head, neck, and shoulder muscles. Tummy time’s a first step toward crawling and other motor skills. Babies should always be supervised because they may not yet be able to lift their heads when they’re face down and as they age they start moving and can get places you might not want them to go.
As your GRANDbaby gets older, you can encourage reaching, stretching, and crawling by placing colorful toys where he or she can see them and move toward them.
This video gives very specific instructions and extra hints for making tummy time effective and fun.
During the toddler years, it’s important to keep exercise going in age-appropriate ways. For example, bouncing and chasing balls can be important in the development of hand-eye coordination.
- Make beautiful music together
JulieAnne Searles grew up in a family that played musical instruments and loved to sing and dance. So, as the mother of a young child, she wanted to find ways to continue that kind of engagement with music. By that time, she was a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who believed strongly in the benefits that come from babies and children bonding with the adults in their lives through music.
She envisioned a class that nurtured the joy and connection she knew could be found in music, so 15 years ago she created, “Moo Moo Musica.” Now in multiple locations in the LA area, her music classes for children ages 0 to 5 abound with rhythm, sounds, melodies, costumes, toys, children, mommies, daddies, nannies, and grands.
JulieAnne’s approach to music for infants is based on the knowledge that even in the womb, babies recognize sounds and melodies. They recognize sounds they heard often before they were born, Mommy’s and Daddy’s voices, the dog barking, and the doorbell ringing. They are born predisposed to the language spoken by their parents.
Once babies are out in the world, words and melodies they hear repeatedly are essentially “laying the tracks” and forming neural networks. Songs help develop speech and can even create the foundation for learning other languages so “Moo Moo Musica” incorporates a diversity of languages. What inspired JulieAnne to explore multiple languages through music and movement was the idea of creating direct, somatic experiences that break down the barriers of the “other,” the unknown.
Moo Moo Musica Movie Link to movie
Five great music choices
1. Moo Moo Musica’s (of course) “Jilly Jambo”
2. Putamayo — children’s world music compilation CDs – including World Lullabies and Soothing Songs
3. Laurie Berkner
4. Hap Palmer
5. Ralph’s World – Happy Lemons
5 reasons to take a music class with your grandchild
- Experiencing the joy of music!
- Bonding through moving and dancing together.
- Helping your grandchild develop a better brain.
- Meeting others in your community who share your interests.
- Facilitating your grandchild’s socialization.
5 ways to rock out with your GRANDbaby
1. SING…in the car, in the bathtub, at mealtime, while walking, holding, or rocking them. They don’t care if you can’t carry a tune!
2. Strike up the kitchen band. Pull out those pots, pans, containers, and wooden spoons and create a drum circle!
3. Use a sock as a hand puppet and make up a funny song or story with different
4. Find board books with lyrics like Five Little Monkeys; Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star; I’m a Little Teapot, etc. and sing while you read.
5. Turn on some salsa, hip hop, or classical music and dance!
This is your brain while dancing
Your Grandbaby’s not the only one learning all the time. Scientists are exploring “Neuroplasticity,” also called neurogenesis and brain plasticity. We now know the brain has the ability to continuously form new connections between brain cells. This contradicts the “old wisdom” that the connections in our brains become fixed as we get older and then, if we live long enough, we actually “lose” brain cells.
The key to avoiding a decrease in mental capacity is to keep challenging our brains with novel and even difficult challenges. Several interesting studies give us clues on how to do that. A study of taxi drivers, who travel new routes all the time, compared with bus drivers, who travel the same routes repeatedly, showed a larger hippocampus in taxi drivers. The hippocampus is the part of the brain involved in forming and accessing complex memories, including the spatial memories used to navigate around town.
Since you probably don’t want a second career as a taxi driver, here’s another path to brain health. Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City did a 21-year study of people 75 years and older. They wanted to determine if recreational activities influenced mental acuity. They studied mental challenges: crossword puzzles, playing cards, playing musical instruments, reading books, and writing for pleasure. They also studied physical activities: golf, swimming, bicycling, dancing, walking, and doing housework. Then they investigated which activities appeared to offer protections against dementia.
Surprisingly, activities such as golf and swimming didn’t make a difference. Reading reduced dementia risk by 35%, doing crossword puzzles at least 4 days a week, 47%. The number one activity? Dancing frequently reduced dementia by 76%! Evidently dancing exercises the brain of both partners. The leader has to make rapid decisions while the follower has to interpret them without missing a beat.
So, find a partner – even if it’s your GRANDbaby – and dance, dance, dance..
Enjoy this TED talk- http://www.ted.com/talks/laura_carstensen_older_people_are_happier
Are you wondering about something related to your new GRANDbaby or GRANDbaby-to-be?
Ask us…contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Question: Sometimes my grandson seems to stop what he’s doing and stare into space. Is that normal – and what is he thinking?
Answer: . Babies love eye contact and staring at things intently, but they also have a normal need to release from that intense connection. It might happen when your GRANDbaby is overstimulated or tired. Experts advise you give him a moment and then move on to something else.
It could also be that your GRANDbaby really is looking at something – a ceiling fan, a light, or something across the room. In the first months of life, babies are also developing their focus and their understanding of things near and far.
You may hear that “staring into space” could be a sign of autism, but that’s usually a matter of degree. If a baby never makes eye contact, parents should talk to their pediatrician. There is also something called “absence seizures” — defined as short periods of unresponsiveness — but these are very rare in infants. Again, if something concerns you, tell the parents who can talk to their pediatrician.
Parenting blogs are filled with conversations about babies staring into space. It probably shows how intently parents are staring at their babies, noticing every move and pattern – proving how much they care.
About the Author – Cheryl Harbour
Cheryl Harbour is the special editor of our “My GRANDbaby” section and author of Good to Be Grand: making the Most of your Grandchild’s First Year, a combination of up-to-date information and grandparently inspiration.