It’s just about that time to put away the swimsuits and beach towels. The first day of school is right around the corner for older kiddos.
What about our babies? Obviously babies can’t head to the classroom yet, but there are a lot of ways moms and dads can educate their infants.
The best part is you don’t even have to leave your home.
“Even from birth, a lot of the best learning that happens for our babies happens through simply living,” says Dr. Kimberly Churbock, a board certified primary care pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic.
“Examples would be a parent talking to a baby, getting at the face level and engaging, smiling, making faces and allowing the baby to take in that face. Over time your baby will start to copy those facial expressions.”
Parents don’t need to buy expensive toys and contraptions to teach their babies.
In fact, Churbock says the best tool is the parent’s voice, and some of the best resources are the simple toys or household objects we already have. For example, pots and pans make great musical toys.
“Everything is new to our babies,” Churbock says. “They are really just discovering the world around them, so take a walk around the house and point out the pictures or go outside and look at the plants and birds and animals.”
Have a long “to do” list? That’s great because you can incorporate your childrens’ education into your day-to-day activities.
Take laundry, for example. Your little one can be working on “tummy time” while feeling the different textures of the clothing you’re folding. If your baby is older than 6 months old, you can fill the laundry basket to weigh it down, and have your child practice pulling himself or herself up.
Even though your baby may not be able to talk yet, it’s never too early to start reading with your infants.
“A good general rule of thumb is to read as much and as often as you can,” Churbock says. “Your baby is going to love hearing your voice when you talk and when you sing songs. Those are wonderful ways to foster learning.”
Music can be an important part of your baby’s education. There are many musical resources around Northeast Ohio for your little one.
For example, Music Together Summit in Fairlawn provides music classes for infants, toddlers and preschoolers with their parents or caregivers.
“Research tells us that children are wired for tone and rhythm just as they are for language and motor skills,” says David Palomo, director of Music Together Summit. “Not only does music engage a child’s emotional development, it also engages their vocal and motor development. This all happens while helping them lay the foundation to be lifelong music makers, making music from the inside out.”
These classes aren’t just beneficial for your baby. Palomo has two graduate degrees in counseling and says he decided to teach Music Together classes because he saw how music supported bonding between parents and children. He says it’s a way of weaving family ties through music.
Palomo’s classes are in Summit County, but there are also similar classes for families who live in Cuyahoga County. For example, Sing & Swing NEO offers music and yoga classes to families on the East and West Sides of Cleveland.
Take a look around your own city while you’re researching. Many local public libraries provide educational classes for infants and babies, too.
For example, libraries such as Rocky River had a program called “Baby and Me” that’s a lap-sit involving board books, songs and rhymes. They also have “Play, Learn and Grow,” which is a free play time with a huge selection of toys, building bricks and puzzles.
Puzzles can really help educate little minds. That’s one of the many items Amanda Stone of Avon uses for her two children, Lucas, 3, and 1-year-old Audrey.
“We read books every night before bed,” Stone says. “With Lucas, at about 18 months we started to do flash cards, sight words, alphabet and numbers. This really helped him, and he loved when we celebrated getting each flash card right.”
Currently, many libraries and other programs are offering virtual interactive opportunities for families. There are also online resources, too. Stone says the app Starfall ABCs was beneficial for Lucas’ development, so she plans to use it again with Audrey, although she’s aware that every baby is different.
“When I was a first-time mom I was so concerned about what other babies my son’s age were doing, what milestones they were hitting and he wasn’t,” Stone says. “My biggest piece of advice to a new mom is try not to compare your baby’s progress with other children. Comparing will just take away from the amazing things that your baby does every day.”
Churbock agrees. “Normal development is such a spectrum, and every child has their own timeline for developing,” she says. “Try to avoid comparing your child to other children in the same age group or even siblings because every child is going to be a little different and unique. Also, don’t compare yourself to other parents.”
Most importantly, always remember the amazing job you’re already doing.
“I think parents don’t hear often enough how good (of) a job they are doing,” Churbock says. “Classes are a wonderful way to engage and expose babies to new things, but I hope parents realize all the good things they’re already doing at home that promote their baby’s development and learning.”
Don’t forget, you can make education fun. Being a parent is no easy task. So, moms and dads, make sure you have a blast along the way.
Jessica Dill is a broadcast journalist turned blogger. The Cleveland native, an award-winning TV news anchor and reporter, is taking a quick break from television to be home with her husband, Michael, and their new baby, Vivian. Learn more at jessicalynndill.com.