Have you ever wondered why toys for babies tend to have so many bells, whistles and lights? Or why they have so many different textures, and materials and colors? It's almost as if we want to provide young babies with a whole world of stimulation and we can't quite get it to them fast enough. Play gyms or activity gyms as they are sometimes called tend to be a firm favorite with babies from newborn up to about 12 months. These play gyms and activity nests mostly come in the form of comfortable, quilted or softly padded playmats, sometimes raised at the edges with a space in the middle for baby (like a ring doughnut). And these play gyms can be either brightly colored or in soft, pastel shades.
But don't be fooled by thinking they are just snug and comfy resting places for babies to fall asleep in! These activity gyms can provide a plethora of visual, audio and tactile stimulation for fast developing young inquisitive minds. Often decorated with well known and lovable characters, Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, or farm and zoo animals as well, they can consist of detachable, hanging parts for small babies to try to grasp. They tend to have parts that are crinkly, soft, scrunchy textures for baby to touch, squeeze and stroke. Some come with bright twinkling lights and bells and others make funny sounds, or musical sounds, and some even do both. You will often find mirrors attached to these activity gyms, so that your baby gets to find and see its own reflection, often providing hours of fun for babies and carers alike.
All of this is extremely important for developing young minds. Babies are like a sponge, they are ready to absorb whatever information they can - and boy - they cannot grasp it fast enough! A lot of new research points to the first three years of life as being critical to a baby's developing brain. It is a known fact that during this period, not only does the brain triple in weight but it also establishes thousands of billions of nerve connections. Astonishingly, at the age of three, a young child has twice as many nerve connections as many adults. Therefore, in your role as a parent, or primary care giver, it is of paramount importance that you recognize this and understand just how much development is taking place inside your young baby's brain from birth until the age of three.
At birth, children have most of the neurons (brain cells) they need for a lifetime however, these brain cells are not yet linked (or "wired") together to form the complex networks that are required for mature thought processes to take place. And what happens is that in the early years, young children's brain cells form these connections or synapses as they are commonly called, very very rapidly. One of the crucial ingredients to aiding these connections to form, is experience, and repetition. In a word, the more times you repeat something new, like showing a baby how to scrunch up a ball, the quicker these connections are formed. Therefore, it naturally follows that the more positive interaction you give an infant or toddler, the more you are helping to stimulate young brains. This stimulation causes new connections to form neural pathways and strengthens existing ones.
Playing with activity gyms, with all the bells and whistles that they offer or reading to a child, anything which allows a child to have positive, interactive processes, will aid your child's brain development. So, as you lovingly sit and watch your young baby laughing and gurgling on the play mat or under the activity gym - do not underestimate the power of the changes taking place in the brain, all enriching an inquisitive mind and arming it with a plethora of knowledge and understanding for years to come.
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