Baby Brain Play: 8 activities for brain and body development

This version of the Brain Play™ can be used with babies as young as 6 weeks up to 18 months. These activities are based on research in early brain development and inspiration from other movement educators such as Anne Green Gilbert's BrainDance, and Beverly Stokes' Amazing Babies, and the joy I saw that these activities brought my girls from the time they were born. These activities are designed to foster your baby's body awareness, assist with early brain development, and strengthen the caregiver-baby emotional connection. Brain Play™ can take as little as 5 minutes to complete or take your time repeating favourite sections or adding movements concepts for a longer more varied experience.

Baby Brain Play™ is a fun easy way to start the day with your baby or a great way to re-energize after a nap. Make the Brain Play part of your baby's daily routine! Although ideally all activities would be completed in the same session, breaking up the play into smaller sections throughout the day can be beneficial for babies with sensory stimulation sensitivities, for busy toddlers with shorter attention spans, or just to add fun to day-to-day activities. Most important: Have fun getting down on the ground to play and explore with your baby daily!

1. Breath:  Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum

Breath is life. When your baby is born it's first breath starts the brain firing and growing! Slow, sustained diaphragmic breathing (belly breathing) can also be used to calm a fussy or anxious baby or caregiver . Breath is also a gentle tactile sensation. Notice as your breath passes over your baby's face they will also take a breath.

“Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum in a dish,
How many bubbles does my baby wish?” (Blow 2 times from head to toes and from toes to head)

2. Tactile: Hickory Dickory Dock

More and more we are seeing doctors place babies directly onto their mother's chest as soon as they are born. Babies are comforted by their mother's touch, respond to her breathing, and recognize the rhythm of her heart beat. Continued skin to skin touch throughout the early years is critical to healthy social and emotional development.  

“Hickory Dickory Dock,
the Mouse tapped up the clock.
The clock struck 1 (clap once),
the mouse tapped down,
Hickory Dickory Dock”

“Hickory Dickory Dock,
the Mouse squeezed up the clock.
The clock struck 2 (clap twice),
the mouse squeezed down,
Hickory Dickory Dock”

“Hickory Dickory Dock,
the Mouse brushed up the clock.
The clock struck 3 (clap three times),
the mouse said “weeeee!”(tickles all the way down the body),
Hickory Dickory Dock”

“Hickory Dickory Dock,
the Mouse poked up the clock.
The clock struck 4 (clap four times),
the mouse said “no more!”
Hickory Dickory Dock”

3. Core-Distal: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

In the first few months your baby will begin to extend out of the fetal tuck. He will stretch his limbs, head, and tail (base of spine) away from his body into space (distal) and then curl them back towards his body (core). This movement pattern develops your baby's awareness of his body in space and develops his confidence as a mover.

"Twinkle twinkle little star (reaching out to distal)
How I wonder what you are? (curling into core)
Up above the word so high,(reaching out to distal)
Like a diamond in the sky (curling into core, finger in diamond shape),
Twinkle twinkle little star (reaching out to distal)
How I wonder what you are? (curling into core)”

4. Head/Tail: Hey Diddle Diddle

During the early months your baby will begin to lift and turn her head while on her tummy, strengthening the muscles in her neck and developing the cervical curve. This pattern also develops your baby's socialization skills as she observes and interacts with the world around her. Daily tummy time with a caregiver will create a positive association with this movement pattern. 

“Hey Diddle Diddle (circle legs)
The cat and the fiddle (lift legs/pelvis up to head and lower),
The cow jumped over the moon.(gently pull babies by hands up to sitting or standing)
The little dog laughed to see such sport (grasping hips gently move them side to side)
And the dish ran away with the spoon. (roll baby onto tummy)”

For crawler/walkers:
“Hey Diddle Diddle (on all fours circle head and tail)
The cat and the fiddle (arch back in cat stretch)
The cow jumped over the moon. (come onto knees, head back, arch back)
The little dog laughed to see such sport (on all fours, shake head and tail laterally)
And the dish ran away with the spoon. (crawl)”

5. Upper/Lower: Pat-a-cake and Buckle My Shoe

From 3-5 months your baby will begin to develop the ability to synchronize movements in her upper and lower body. In prone (on belly) he will press up onto arms and hands and then onto feet and knees. In supine (on back) he will lift his knees to his chest and then bring arms and hands towards his knees. Your baby may experience his first inadvertent movement through space by pushing backwards on his belly or rolling to his side while on his back. 

Pat-a-Cake (Upper Body)

Patta Cake Patta Cake, Baker’s Man. Bake me a cake as fast as you can! (Clapping babies hands together)

Roll it (Rolling arms), Stretch it (stretch arms), and mark it with a B (draw B on baby’s belly),

And put it in the oven for baby and me (clapping baby’s hands).

Buckle my Shoe (Lower Body)

One, two, (Bicycle legs)

buckle my shoe. (Tap bottoms of feet together)

Three, four, (Bicycle legs)

shut the door. (Open and close legs)

Five, six, (Bicycle legs)

pick up sticks. (Stretch legs up towards chest)

Seven, eight, (Bicycle legs)

lay them straight. (Stretch legs straight)

Nine, ten,(Bicycle legs)

a big fat hen! (Tickle Baby)

6. Body sides: London Bridges

From 5-7 months your baby will begin to explore her ability to synchronize the sides of her body. In prone she may shift her weight from side to side as she flexes and extends same arm and leg in a swimming motion. In side lying she will flex the arms and legs that are grounded to the earth while extending the other side, reaching into space. This movement exploration sets the ground work for rolling and belly creeping while developing horizontal eye tracking.  

(Using same arm and leg to gently roll baby side to side)
"London Bridges falling down, falling down, falling down.
London Bridges falling down,
My fair baby.
Build it up with loves and hugs loves and hugs loves and hugs.
Build it up loves and hugs, my fair baby."

7. Cross Lateral: Shoe a Little Horse

Between 7-9 months your baby will begin to cross lateral movements, moving the opposite hand/arm to leg/foot, while creeping and crawling. While crawling, your baby also begins  to develop his vertical eye tracking. Combining the vertical and horizontal eye tracking will be used in a few years when he starts to read. Your baby is also developing his lumbar curve in the spine while crawling and is strengthening the muscles in his hands, arms, and chest for greater fine motor control. 

(Baby on their backs or sitting in laps. For each line hand reaches across body to opposite to foot and taps.)

"Shoe a little horse,
Shoe a little mare,
With a tap, tap here
and a tap, tap there." Repeat.

8.Vestibular: Twisting in the Washing Machine

The vestibular system first begins to develop while your baby is in the womb and continues throughout her first 5 years of life. The vestibular system helps your baby analyze where she is in space as well as the relations between her body parts and movements in relation to one another. This is important for developing body awareness and balance as well as processing sensory information.  

Hold baby and twist side to side “Twist, twist, twist in the washing machine,
twist, twist, twist, until we're clean.
Spin and stop!"  Repeat

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