About newborn play and cognitive development

Interactive, simple, fun and safe. These are the kinds of play experiences newborn babies need for cognitive development – that is, to develop their ability to think.

When you play with your baby and respond to your baby’s cues, it makes your baby feel secure and loved. It also helps you get to know each other. This safe and loving environment helps your baby’s brain start to develop the ability to think, understand, communicate, make memories, imagine and work out what will happen next.

A big part of newborn play is the back-and-forth interactions between you and your baby. Cognitive development happens naturally as you spend time playing with your baby.

You’re the key person in your baby’s life. Your warm and loving relationship with your baby lays the foundation for her learning and development. This means that your relationship with your baby is critical to her development.

What to expect: newborn cognitive development

Newborn babies have lots to learn and you’ll be amazed at how fast this learning happens.

At first, your baby starts off not even knowing that you’ll take care of him. But by about four weeks, your baby will recognise and respond to your voice.

Your newborn will also be fascinated by your face and will gaze at you in wonder, especially when you talk. Your baby is learning to notice and remember what you sound and look like.

At this age, your baby might look at a brightly coloured mobile hanging above the cot or sleeping area for a long time. This might seem like a simple activity but your baby is learning to understand concepts like movement and colour.

Babies want to experience the world, but not all at once – too many people, sounds and activities might exhaust your baby. Sometimes too much stimulation will make your baby too tired to sleep, so watch out for those tired signs.

Play ideas for encouraging newborn cognitive development

Here are some play ideas to get you going:

  • Talk to your baby often, hold your baby, and make eye .
  • Read with your baby, recite nursery rhymes, or sing songs. Repeating the same song, rhyme or story isn’t boring for your little one – repetition is one of the ways babies learn.
  • Make faces with your baby. This is a game you can play together from birth. If you stick out your tongue or make an ‘O’ with your lips, some babies can do the same.
  • Give your baby different things to look at, about 30 cm from her face. For example, you could use books or baby play gyms to show her different colours and shapes.
  • Give your baby a soft toy or rattle to reach for and touch. You could try this when your baby is a few weeks old.
  • Gently rock, stroke or massage your baby. You could also touch your baby’s toes and fingers and even play a naming game.
  • Listen to wind chimes, birds or different types of music.
  • Explore outside with your baby – you could go for a walk or visit the park with your baby in a sling or pram.

It’s a good idea to follow your baby’s lead during play. For example, if your baby is fascinated by the feel of a teddy bear, join in with the experience. You could even say, ‘Yes, teddy feels soft’. But if your baby isn’t interested in an activity or is too tired to play, it’s probably time to try something else.

There’s a lot for your newborn baby to learn about the world. Depending on your baby’s temperament, you might need to introduce your baby to new play experiences slowly and gently so that you don’t overwhelm him.