Respectful Parenting: Learning to be present with my child during mealtimes

I personally believe that dining in a restaurant with your toddler is one of the most challenging tasks as a parent. I remember when Ellie started walking, she would sit for a couple of minutes and would ask to go down from the high chair, just in time when I was about to take my first bite. Then, there were also those instances when they are done eating but you haven’t eaten touched your plate. I realized that it was so much easier when they were infants; you could bring them anywhere with you and they would either just sleep, or eat, or watch you eat. Dining habits change when you have a toddler because developmentally, they are active and like to explore, and so, expecting them to wait until you finish your full course meal (with dessert) is really quite impossible.

 

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However, I  think that it can be possible if you keep your child busy.  I can still recall our best dining experiences as parents and it was when both our children were really busy even after they were finished eating. They just continue to play while we enjoy our meal. When they were little, our baby bag was not just filled with the usual baby things but we also brought some materials that our babies can play with- a couple of board books; a few play materials (small mirror; a ball; a rattle; a spoon/fork, etc.) and of course, snacks, which kept them focused on their own play activity while we, the parents, have our turn to eat or at times, take turns eating. This was the routine that we started at home, and we carried this routine with us even when we were eating outside our home (in restaurants or at other people’s homes).

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Earlier on during my pregnancy, Mike and I decided that we would delay exposing our children to technology/screen media until they were much older. I shared to him the many studies I’ve read upon and observed from my personal experience in teaching children and so we both agreed to be committed on this principle. In retrospect, I’m grateful that we made this decision.

Dr. John Medina’s book, entitled: Brain Rules for Baby: how to raise a smart and happy child from Zero to Five, identified that one of the four brain boosters for a child is talking to your baby- a lot. Dr. Medina revealed that based on a study done to 40 families, “the more parents talk to their children, even in the earlier moments of life, the better their kids’ linguistic abilities become… children whose parents talked positively, richly and regularly to them knew twice as many words as those whose parents talked to them the least.” (p.127). Dr. Medina stressed that it actually takes a real live person to benefit your infant’s brain and not any other forms of screen media. In relation to this, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines recommending that infants who are 18 months and younger should not be exposed to any digital media while children ages 2 to 5 years old should be allowed to 1 hour per day only. Dr. Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, the lead author of the “Children and Adolescents and Digital Media Technical Report” and assistant professor at UCLA, explained that screen time can cause disconnect between parent and child. This is because if the parent’s attention is fixed on his gadgets, then children are deprived of that attention, which is a crucial bonding time for them.

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I have always believed that gadgets should not be our immediate solution in order to distract our children during our meal times. I agree that this is the easiest way to get our child’s attention in order that we can continue with whatever we are doing at that moment. Sad to say, we are actually missing the point of why we are sharing meals together and the value behind it. I like what Ruth Anne Hammond said in her book, Respecting Babies (2009), “if stimulation is regularly of the ‘entertainment’ variety, the baby may become a habitually passive recipient who expects always to be entertained.” (p.123). Ruth Anne explains that we want our children to tune in, to be sensitive to what’s going on around him and when we allow this, we are developing within them the habit of paying attention.

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I came up with alternative activities that you can do with your baby/toddler when you are in a restaurant. I learned that not all restaurants are child-friendly and so it’s always better to be prepared. Here are some of my suggestions:

  1. Art materials: Bring a drawing book and a set of crayons with you. Although your child may just doodle at this time, this activity does not only exercise his finger muscles but also encourages creativity on his part. You can also come up with short stories about what you see on his paper, and this will definitely keep him interested all the more. I like the washable crayons and markers because it’s easy to clean during meal times.
  1. A variety of board books. I usually bring 2-3 small books because they come in handy. You can bring your child’s favorite book together with other books of interest to him. I also try to bring a new book because it makes them curious and keeps them focused for a longer period of time.
  1. Different Types of Paper: You will be surprised at the many things your child can come up with just by giving them paper. Just a word of caution: give this to older infants who have the least tendency to eat anything they get their hands on. You can let them tear, crumple, roll and even press the paper.
  1. Manipulatives: There are a lot that you can choose from. These materials can be purchased from the toy store or you can even make one for your child. You can do the lacing beads/stringing beads (where your child will string the beads through the hole); puzzles; and table blocks. I also like the food play toys that your child can cut using a plastic knife/utensil. Materials such as these do not only develop fine motor skills but also develops one’s ability to focus on a given task.
  1. Stickers: There are so many stickers that you can choose from. Pick the one that interests your child- a cartoon character, a particular animal, or colors/shapes. You can have a sticker book wherein your child can decorate. For younger infants, I usually choose the big stickers while for the older ones, the smaller stickers are good for them.

 

To tell you frankly, it was never easy at first. There were many times when Mike and I wanted to just take out our phone while we were trying to establish this routine. I’m glad that we supported each other as we took simple steps each day. We are most thankful to God for giving us that extra patience and grace to do this. Now, we see the benefits of what we started 3 years ago with our children. We see how our children are learning to wait more patiently whenever they see us eating, we notice how our youngest, Julia, can sit longer and feed herself, and we observe how Ellie, will ask us to tell her stories while we all finish our food. Small victories but these mean so much to us.

The key is that we knew what was our goal in mind, and this kept us motivated to stick to our commitment. Our desire is that we give value to meal times with our children because we want to preserve this time as the only time when we can be temporarily disconnected from the concerns of the world yet be connected with people who matter to us the most.

As parents, Mike and I want to impart to our children the importance of being present, of listening and conversing with each other (face-to-face), and it pays to start this habit while they are still young.

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If you want to read more about this topic:

Check the following references:

Website References: (online version of articles on policy statements)

Articles:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/13/how-to-cut-childrens-screen-time-say-no-to-yourself-first/?_r=0

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/10/21/health/screen-time-media-rules-children-aap/

Books:

Hammond, R.A. (2009). Respecting Babies: A new look at Magda Gerber’s RIE approach. Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE

Medina, J. (2014). Brain rules for baby: how to raise a smart and happy child from zero to five. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

 

 

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Thank you dear parents!

Thank you dear parents for attending my seminar: “Understanding your Baby’s Needs” at the Project Mom’s Bazaar. Thank you to the Parenting Emporium for making such event possible!

I like that I did not just do all the talking instead the parents were very much engaged and willing to share their experiences.

I also enjoyed the many questions that were asked during that event such as: “Is it okay to expose my child to another language?” and “Why is it that my child seem to be not interested when I take charge of his playtime?”  and many more. I’ll blog about these questions soon.

I’m grateful for opportunities where we can connect with co-parents and listen to their own struggles and victories in raising their children. This is a great community to be part of. 🙂

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Respectful Parenting: Learning to understand my baby’s needs

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I think any parent would agree with me that you will try your very best to prepare an environment that is both stimulating and conducive for your baby’s learning. Won’t you?

So when I learned that I was pregnant with Ellie (our first-born), I came across a thousand books, readings and researches about infant development and parenting. Being a preschool teacher and college professor of child development proved to be an advantage but at the same time, it was quite a challenge to really narrow down all the knowledge that I have.

As a new mom, I was so eager to finally get to apply everything that I have read, studied in college and grad school, and practiced for the past 10 years to my very own daughter and not anymore to other parents’ children. I mastered all the energy I have (despite being pregnant) to craft a curriculum and prepare materials that I can “teach” to Ellie once she was born.

But I think I was missing the point. I was missing that important principle of understanding my baby’s needs. I thought that I was prepared and equipped with the knowledge in welcoming Ellie into this world but honestly, I forgot to take a step back and to reflect on what is it really that she needs.

It was my mentor, Kathy, an infant and toddler specialist (I met her when I did my grad school internship in her school in Burbank, California) who reminded me about these things. When I told her that I made a curriculum for Ellie, she smiled at me and told me graciously to read on RIE (which stands for Resources for Infant Educarers). This actually prompted me to set aside the curriculum I made for Ellie and to begin to see her with new eyes.

Magda Gerber pioneered RIE and she advocated for the “educaring” philosophy. According to Magda, educaring means “we educate while we care and care while we educate” our babies. This approach is highly rooted on the value of respecting babies as individuals. After reading Magda’s best-seller book, “Dear Parent” and continued my research on RIE, I wanted to immediately apply it to Ellie.

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“Relax and enjoy the wonders of infant development”

I learned 5 major lessons as inspired by RIE and these are the following:

1) Babies need to be respected;

2) Babies need to be trusted;

3) Babies need parents who are sensitive observers;

4) Babies need a secure and consistent caregiver and

5) Babies need time.

We (my husband Mike and I) first applied RIE to Ellie when we were doing our caregiving activities with her. Caregiving activities include changing her diapers, feeding, bathing, and putting her to sleep. RIE enables us to see these caregiving activities as an intimate time and relationship-building opportunity between you and your child rather than seeing it just as a chore. By not picking your baby up without telling her beforehand, by talking directly at her and not over her and by waiting for her response first, we send a message to our baby that he or she is a valuable person who has the right to be respected by others. I personally learned to observe more my child, to enjoy more her development rather than hurrying her up to do this or to do that.

It wasn’t easy at the start but later on, as it became part of our routine, we saw the benefits for our family. We observed how cooperative Ellie was (even when she was a newborn) towards our caregiving activities with her and even others noticed it too.  (We continued applying the same approach with our second child, Julia.)  

I’d like to say that I just started my journey towards respectful parenting and there are still so many things to learn and to unlearn. There are days when raising a toddler and a preschooler can be a handful and honestly, it’s so much easier to turn off that “respect button”. But when I think about how respecting my children will have a lasting impact on them later on, I choose to stay on this path.

Perhaps you can relate with me? Let me encourage you with one of my favorite quotes from Magda, “a respectful beginning is an investment in the future of the relationship between your child and you, your child and others, and in your child’s exploration of the world.” God Bless on your parenting journey!

If you want to know more about Understanding your Baby’s Needs, I’ll be conducting a seminar on November 19, 2016, 11:00-12:00 pm at Mommy’s Best Christmas Village brought to you by Project Mom and The Parenting Emporium. See you there! 

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How should I go about with my baby’s day?

You probably might have asked these questions,

Where do I begin? How do I go about with my baby on a typical day? or “What should I do with my baby on a daily basis?”   Am I doing it right? Is it enough? 

You are not alone. I’ve asked myself the same question, several times, over and over again.    Wondering if what I’m doing with my daughter is the right thing or if it’s really enough.

Ruth Anne Hammond in her book, Respecting Babies (2009) wrote that, “babies need predictability and regularity in their lives more than entertainment and stimulation“. She brings reality to us, parents, that we are living at a time when babies are more vulnerable to becoming passive recipients of everything around them. Where adults are quick to provide various forms of entertainment to pacify a child, which in effect, actually distracts the child and affects his ability to give his full attention.

Ruth Anne drives home the message that babies need the ability to focus, and this all begins with the quality of attention that a caregiver/parent gives to a child. When parents give their one-on-one attention to their child, the child learns to tune in. When a child learns to tune in, he becomes focused and involved to whatever interaction he is part of at the moment. This is an important value that child needs in order to achieve self-discipline in his life.

The next question is, how do you provide a sense of “predictability” to your baby? 

The answer is: Establish a ROUTINE for your baby. 

I personally believe that a  structured routine is more apt for toddlers but infants can also benefit much from having a simple routine.

Routine according to Magda Gerber is perceived by adults as  “boring sameness” because it includes the essential daily activities that a baby must undergo in order to survive. For us, it appears to be more of a daily chore that we must accomplish for the child. But it is actually  these “caregiving activities” that we should maximise in order to establish a good routine for the baby.

Why have a routine? There a lot of benefits for the child, and of course to you as well.

Primarily, you build a good relationship between you and your child. Second, you allow your child to develop basic trust and security.

Ruth Anne writes,

“a predictable life with expectable routines sets up an infant to become a child who is more easily able to display self-discipline and more willing to accept adult’s guidance because he has developed trust in us”

How do you go about with the caregiving routines?  The answer you’ll find out on Sunday.

This article is just an introduction (hehe) because I will share more about this on this Sunday’s seminar at the Momzilla Fair. If you want to know more about this, feel free to sign up for this free seminar!

 

 

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A Free Seminar for Parents!

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This is a FREE Event. To all moms and dads with babies and even soon-to-be parents, this class is for YOU. Your baby needs you to know something. Find out what it is so you can start your parenting journey on the right foot. 👍 As a RIE advocate, I will be sharing my experiences as a mom and as an infant and toddler specialist. 👩‍👧
**RIE is based on Magda Gerber’s philosophy of respect for and trust in the baby to be an iniator, an explorer and a self-learner.

See you on October 8! Don’t forget to sign up!!!

 

Babies and Play (3-6 months): What Parents can do with their infants?

Let me continue the series on: Babies and Play, and this time, we’ll talk about babies who are 3-6 months old.

If you’d ask me, personally, I think this is one of the best moments of having an infant: first, because you’d get to have a certain routine with your baby already, which means, a little extra hour of sleep for you and your spouse, next, you feel a certain sense of confidence knowing that you can actually take care of an infant,  and best of all, you’d notice several milestones during this stage apart from the usual caregiving routine that you do everyday. Isn’t that amazing? 🙂

According to Zero to Three (zerotothree.org), your baby at 3 months old is becoming more aware about his immediate surrounding and most important of all, the people who care for him and that includes You! I remember my husband, Mike, would be fascinated whenever Ellie and Julia (at 3 months old) would smile back at him or try to “answer” back at him whenever he would talk to them. It’s great to actually see this kind of interaction between you and your child. This is the best time to actually build on that. We’ll talk more about this later on.

At 3-6 months old, these are the many things that your baby can do:

“I am learning to control my body” 

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Julia’s first attempt to pull herself up

Your child can exhibit the following:

  • try to roll to get closer to an object or towards you.
  •  try to push himself up to see the things that interest him
  • roll back and forth on hands and knees
  • sit with help and hold head steadily

“Allowing infants to develop their movements naturally and in sequence, without rushing past interim stages, provides them with a solid psychomotor foundation, which will support them for life. Infants have not yet divorced the mental from the physical senses of self, and if adults are careful, perhaps, infants will always remain wholly integrated” (Hammond, 2009, p. 82).

“The desire to use their hands is a great motivator for balancing in more and more precarious poses in the stages between rolling over and sitting. There is no need to think that a baby needs to be sitting up to use both hands and practice hand-eye coordination” (Hammond, 2009, p.97).

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“I use my hands and fingers to control” 

Babies at this stage are no longer confined to just using their mouths to explore but they are now using their hands and fingers to explore . Ruth Anne explains that the best way to gauge an infant’s readiness for a toy is to actually place the object within his reach or probably, a little bit beyond him. She pointed explained that there is a need to “…allow the baby all of the time he needs to choose when to take notice” (p. 96) because if the baby is interested, he will take notice so there is no need for you to shake it infront of his face.

At this stage, balls of all types become more fascinating for young children. It is amazing to observe that the same toys (played with during the newborn stage) can be used in different ways at a different stage. Ruth Anne shares that, “the little stainless cups may become hooves as they crawl with one in each hand…baskets may be discovered as excellent places to put things…” (p.97).

“I communicate by using my sounds, facial expressions and actions”

Babies at this stage are showing more signs of interaction. They show their response through sounds such as: cooing, blabbing, gurgling, aside from showing the big smiles on their faces.

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Julia showed us this face while we were talking to her

 

“I am ready for books”

Your babies’ ability to touch, mouth, grab books already show their early interest in books. Even if they cannot read yet, exposing them to books (by reading to them and letting them explore and play with these materials) becomes a way to develop early literacy skills and most of all, their love for books.

 

As parents of 3-6 month old babies, you should keep in mind to: 

 

  • give them opportunities to explore and to move while they are on their backs. Ruth Anne Hammond (2009) mentioned that “in this position, they have the maximum opportunity to move their arms and legs freely, to learn that they have control over them and ultimately, to discover their hands” as written in Roche’s article for the Sensory Awareness Foundation Bulletin.

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    One of Ellie’s favourite play objects. It was a fluffy rabbit.
  • Magda Gerber of RIE (Resources for Infant Educators) advocates that a baby should not be put in a position that he cannot get into or out of all by herself. This is why they don’t recommend sitting up babies before they can get there on their own because it will not only cause undue strain on the child’s hips and other body parts but it can also contribute to a child’s feeling of helplessness, which can affect his self-confidence. Hammond pointed out Hanford’s study (2005)  that this positioning results in a baby who is immobilised in the pelvic region but also possibly skipping crawling and thus missing the important cross-lateral movement that is important in brain development.
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Ellie reaching towards the box and other toys on her own

 

  • Offer toys that are simple but varied in terms of shapes, colours, materials, textures and weights. Toys such as: O-balls, small wooden bowls, short chains of linking rings, napkin, small rag dolls or sock animals, flexible silicone coasters and muffin cups. Keep in mind that safety is a priority- so make sure that they are not small enough to be swallowed, made of safe plastic/materials and next, that they are not heavy enough to hurt when dropped.

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  • Offer other objects that can motivate movement include: balls (all sizes, weights, textures); baskets; boxes (for pushing, crawling); scarves (for peek-a-boo);
  • set-up spaces where you can put: small inflatable pool; big cardboard boxes; low platforms to add an interesting terrain for your child’s play.
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Ellie loved moving around boxes such as this one
  • Observe your child’s signals and respond. Enjoy back-and-forth conversations with your baby.

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  • Choose books that are appropriate for your infants. (Board books, cloth books, books with big pictures, books that can be explored during bath time or that can be washed
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Ellie’s favourite book at this stage. She loved it whenever we made the sound of each musical instrument.
  • Create a regular routine for your child. From waking up to having a bedtime routine, this will help establish a predictable schedule and environment for your baby.
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Ellie’s early morning smile during her visit at her lola’s house

Sawyers, J. k. & Rogers, C.S. (2003). Helping Babies Play. Young Children on the Web. pp.1-2

Hammond, R.A. (2009). Respecting babies: A new look at Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach. Washington, DC. ZERO TO THREE.

Zerotothree.org

Babies and Play (0-3 months): What Parents can do with their NEWBORN?

This week, in one of the viber chat rooms that I share with my mommy friends, our topic was: What are the activities that we can do with our children?  As I was reading through our forum, it actually inspired me to write about my answer to our topic.

(Special mention to these amazing Moms whom I’ve been friends with through pregnancy, post-pregnancy and raising children. They’ve been a great support group. They readily reply (at any given time) to your most basic question about your child from pooping to feeding, encourage you right away whenever you rant about your challenges as a mom, and shares your joy in your triumphs no matter how small they are. They happen to be Mike’s college block mates. 🙂 

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These are some of our pictures together with our husbands and children. 

 

As we have discussed in the previous series, play is the primary vehicle in which our babies learn. 

But how do we actually play with our children?  What are the activities that we can do with my children? 

There are so many things that you can do with your baby, and these play activities won’t even take much of your time. No matter if you are working or a full-time parent, here are some tips I have gathered which you can easily do at home and that you can even teach to your child’s caregivers and your relatives. Let me start off with the first stage, the newborns. 

Newborn to 3 months:

According to Zero to Three (a global, non-profit organisation that focuses on giving children from 0-2 a healthy start through various researches and advocacies), an important task for babies during this stage is to help them feel comfortable in their new environment. They are still learning how to regulate their sleeping and eating patterns and even their own emotions. In addition to this, newborns use their gestures (body movements), sounds and facial expressions to communicate their particular needs. These can come in the form of crying, gazing at your face or arching their bodies.

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Ruth Anne Hammond (2009) in her book, Respecting Babies, stressed that since newborns need freedom of movement at various times during the day, it makes sense that “until babies have really learned to use their hands, toys are not much of use“. Ruth Anne added that newborns need to discover their hands, as it leads to hand-eye coordination and more intricate forms of play. She emphasized that

“when babies are very young, they have a gazing reflex over which they have little control. Therefore, just because a baby is staring at a mobile does not mean the baby likes it or is benefiting from the stimulation. It may just mean that her gaze has been captured and she cannot look away.” (p.95).

Given this, Ruth Anne explains that it becomes more rewarding and beneficial at this particular stage if the newborn is able to see his hands and learn how to actually move them in a specific direction, for example, how to open and close his own fingers at will. She said that only when babies have accomplished such skill then toys will only be then useful to them.

As parents of newborns, you should keep in mind to:

  • let your babies discover his/her own hands. Give them time to do this.
  • place objects around the baby where he/she can either accidentally pick up or deliberately drop and rediscover these objects. (The next article will feature about these particular objects) For example, a simple cotton table napkin (lay it flat, and lift into a peak) which the infant can grasp and because it is soft, it will not hurt the baby’s face. Peek-a-boo at its earliest stage can be easily observed here.
  • Soothe your baby. (When you respond to your child’s cries, you send a signal that he is loved. As you respond, you are also teaching the necessary skills he needs for now, and that later will help him self-soothe. You are also promoting a strong bond and healthy brain development).
  • Talk your baby. Smile and repeat sounds-again, and again! Stop between sounds and watch for them to smile or move in response to your voice. If you get a playful response, repeat it. Tell your baby everything that is happening around him.
  • Sing to the baby. Make up songs just for this baby. Dance with the baby nestled on your shoulder.
  • Play with the baby’s hands and feet, gently patting and rubbing, saying silly soft sounds to match. “Pedal the baby’s legs for a bike ride, describing where you’re going.
  • Offer objects that your baby can look at, touch, and grip within his palms. It is said that he can focus best on objects that are 8 to 12 inches away from him.
  • Engage in “tracking games” by moving yourself and interesting objects back and forth. (First, the baby will use his eyes to follow. then eventually he will move his head from side to side,. This helps strengthen the neck muscles and exercise his visual abilities.
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Here are some questions that you can ask yourself which can help you reflect upon the kind of  activities that you do with your newborn:

  1. What soothes your baby? What most distresses him? How do you know?
  2. How does your baby communicate with you? What kind of interaction that he likes best? How does he let you know that he has had enough?
  3. What experiences does your baby seem to like best? (ex. hearing animal sounds; when you talk to him; etc) 
  4. What kind of toys/objects grab your child’s attention? How does he let you know what he’s interested in?
  5. What kind of play do you enjoy most with your baby?

Reference: Charting your child’s development: 0-2 months (2003)by Zero to Three and American Academy of Pediatrics.

 

What’s working in our little family:

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We have a collection of songs that we let Julia and Ellie listen to.  I have a variety of Filipino and English children’s songs that we play at home. These songs range from action songs, nursery rhymes, to praise and worship songs. I also let them listen to lullabies and instrumental songs and at times, let them also listen to our favourite songs. You can visit the local music store to avail of cds, you can also try downloading some from reputable sites such as iTunes. My favourite at present is Spotify. There’s a lot of great playlists for children on Spotify.

Because Mike is musically-inclined, he loves changing the lyrics of the song and uses a familiar tune whenever he playfully sings with our children. Our daughters love this and their faces automatically light up whenever Mike starts to sing. We, teachers call that “palit-awit” (wherein we will change the lyrics with another set of lyrics, related to the class topic/theme. For example, using the tune of: Mary Had A Little Lamb,  you will replace the words about a particular routine such as washing of hands, or packing away of toys). So, the challenge is to be creative, you’ll be surprised at how many original songs you can come up with and readily, you have a collection of songs you can sing to your baby as you put him to sleep, as you soothe him, or even as you wake him up.

I hope that you can at least try one suggested play activity per day or better try to accomplish most of them everyday. Watch and see how your newborn will react. It will truly surprise you. 🙂

For our next article, I’ll discuss the age group (3 months-6 months) and what playful activities parents can do with their babies.

References:

Sawyers, J. k. & Rogers, C.S. (2003). Helping Babies Play. Young Children on the Web. pp.1-2

Hammond, R.A. (2009). Respecting babies: A new look at Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach. Washington, DC. ZERO TO THREE.

Zerotothree.org