Brain Builders: Stimulating Activities for Your 5-month-old Baby

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By Tammy Morey

Are you ready to rock and roll! This month Baby is rockin’ and rollin’ all over – wiggling, wriggling and rolling her body in ways to get what she wants. And she is expressing herself quite well, too, with squirms, giggles and wails to let you know how she feels. That’s just the beginning of all the wonderful experiences awaiting you and your baby in her fifth month of life.

Routine, Routine, Routine

All babies flourish in an environment that is consistent, orderly and predictable. By providing your baby with a routine, you are establishing a lifetime of security and dependability. Now is the perfect opportunity to incorporate a routine into your life or reassess the one you currently have – both for you and your baby. First, evaluate whether or not you are taking adequate care of yourself, then assess your baby’s well-being through the following ABCs assessment from Susan Ludington, author of How to Have a Smarter Baby (Bantam, 1987)):

Is Baby receiving the essential play and sense opportunities?

  • A – Appearance: Does Baby appear happy? If yes, continue with B. If no, then evaluate the behaviors that promote security such as establishing a bedtime routine to ensure adequate sleep.
  • B – Behaviors: By now you will probably have had enough time to establish a routine based upon her patterns of sleep/wakefulness/hunger and ensure that you organize your day accordingly. During the day, she will probably require two to two and a half hours of wakefulness approximately four times a day. She will need 10 to 12 hours of sleep each evening, which may or may not be interrupted by feeding.
  • C – Care: Is Baby receiving the essential play and sense opportunities? The play opportunities are: structured, unstructured, interactive and free play. The sense opportunities are: vocalizing, visual, tactile, listening, taste and smell opportunities.

If you are unsure whether you are providing her with adequate routines that establish her sense of dependability, begin with writing down the sequence of your day. For example, when do you bathe and feed her, and when does she nap and go to bed? These natural routines are the perfect opportunities to include sense and play activities.

For example, while you are feeding her, play some soft music. During her bath, describe the routine of washing her hair and let her smell the shampoo before you put it on her head. If you give her a bath before bed, add tactile/touch into the routine by massaging lotion into her arms and legs before diapering and dressing her. This will also relax her, allowing her to fall asleep easier.

Toys

In Baby’s fifth month, she needs toys that allow and encourage her to increase her attention span during playtime, toys that she can maneuver and that will cultivate her influence over the game’s outcome.

Some wonderful toys are nesting and stacking games. They will encourage her to build as well as knock down and, therefore, give her direct power over the configuration of the objects in her world. These types of toys will strengthen her awareness of cause and effect such as “if I put this toy on top of this toy, then this will happen.”

She is also quickly learning that she has direct power through maneuvering her body. To help her build the muscles needed for crawling, introduce toys to her that will teach her how to reach for and pull items toward her. Reaching, grasping and pulling skills also contribute to her understanding of cause and effect. For example, she learns that if she reaches for the Bumpy ball, she can touch it, manipulate it into her grasp and pull it toward her so that she can explore it more closely both visually and through the tactile stimulation of putting it in her mouth. The perfect types of balls are the “Easy Grip Bumpy Balls” that come in primary colors. These types of games and toys also will promote the growth of her memory ability.

Her memory ability is so important because it allows her to understand the concept of object permanence, meaning that when she can’t see Mommy, Mommy isn’t gone forever (which causes anxiety), but is merely temporarily out of sight and will return. By now, she will have developed memory traces that last from seven to nine seconds, which allow her to make conscious and guided movements. For example, when she sees her bumpy ball and turns her focus away for a period of no longer than nine seconds, she will remember its existence and return back to playing with the ball.

The fifth month is also the perfect time to introduce Baby to the skill of dumping and filling containers. Not only will this entertain her but it also teaches her about the relative weights, shapes and sizes of different objects. These types of games enhance her awareness of spatial concepts like small and large and full and empty. The actual process of the games that engage her in dumping out and putting back are exercises that address both fine and gross motor skills. You may have already noticed that she seems to find anything and everything in the house that she can already empty out.

By the fifth month, your baby is also quite good at grasping objects, but she may not be as adept at passing from one hand to the other. Passing involves moving both hands at once and can be a difficult task to master. In order to pass the toy, she will need to learn how to grasp and release simultaneously. Bilateral coordination is a prerequisite to her crawling and eventually walking.

Playtime

Supervised unstructured play is a significant type of play that is important to incorporate into Baby’s day. Supervised unstructured play means that you are always watching your baby. Free play, in contrast, means that she is given the freedom to play without any guided or interactive participation by the caregiver.

Supervised unstructured playtime enables Baby to develop her memory through exploratory play and also encourages the development of natural curiosity and persistence in discovering what happens next. The types of toys and games that you introduce to her should provide immediate gratification so that she can link the movement to the desired outcome.

Some toys to utilize in supervised unstructured playtime include squeaky toys (like rubber porcupines found at your local pet store, which are great because they also provide tactile stimulation); mobiles with components that move in various directions (diagonally, vertically, horizontally and in circular patterns); and rattles, baby maracas and tambourines because she demonstrates the difference between her own vigorous and gentle movements. The maximum amount of time that she will probably be able to handle is about 15 minutes.

The fifth month is such a wonderful time for Baby to begin demonstrating her sense of self as she feels good about her abilities to control more of her environment. This pride and sense of accomplishment is most evident as she enjoys playing with her toys without your constant help. Through establishing routines and building upon her sense of security you have given her a sense of reinforcement that learning is of itself a reward because it is her own internal joy that keeps her playing. As you combine this natural intrinsic emotion with your praise, she will automatically demonstrate a sense of security in her sense of control that allows her to eventually follow simple instructions on her own.

Be Consistent

Remember consistency and repetition are the keys to helping her master new skills. As she begins to make sounds that resemble words, it is important to vocally respond to her on a consistent basis. As an example, whenever you hear your Baby making the “daa” sound, answer: “Dada, yes Dada” or with “maa,” reply: “Mama, very good.” Before you know it, she will begin to realize that if she makes this particular sound, she gets this result, but when she makes another sound, she gets a different result.

As you continue to play these empowering games, she will begin to learn there is in fact a consistency between her actions and the reactions from people with whom she is engaging. Therefore, the consistency reinforces her sense of permanence and a sense of dependability.

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