Infant Games Grow Brains

baby crawling

Read our professional occupational therapist and game lady, Barbara Sher’s, top infant games that will help to grow your baby’s brain!  

By Barbara Sher, M.A., OTR

One of the fascinating facts about brain development is that as far as the brain is concerned, we  are  all  born  premature. Even though we are born with 100 billion nerve cells,they are not yet connected in networks. At birth, our organs and muscles are completely developed, although smaller than they will be,but our brain is only about one-fifth its final size.

In the beginning, we start making connections using our sensory system. For example, the infant begins to put  together the combination of a particular face, the taste of milk, the feel of her body and her voice and scent to mean mama or main caregiver. Another combination of sensations means dad, or that rambunctious older brother, or the dog. So, little by little, experience by experience, pathway patterns are formed that describe the bath

The new news, relatively hot off the neuroscience press, is that all experiences are not created equal. They do not all lay down new pathways. Some experiences don’t change the brain at all while others make big changes. The deciding factor of whether the experience is going to lead to a bigger brain is (drum roll, please)……. Joy! Kids’ brains grow when engaged in playful, engaging activities.

If children are enJOYing the experience in an activity that engages them and excites their imagination, it supports healthy brain development and  maximizes learning. It makes sense: paying attention is a necessary ingredient for learning and children naturally attend to an activity when it is interesting, fun and meaningful.

The sad news is that synapses that are not activated progressively wither over time. Those 100 billion cells get pruned away through the “use it or lose it” principle. You can see why early experience plays such a crucial role in “wiring” a young child’s brain and why programs such as Head Start and Early Intervention Therapy were started.

Babies   with    strong,  positive, emotional bonds to their caregivers and enjoyable playful experiences in their  lives showconsistently lower  levels of cortisol in their brains. Play is essential to a child’s development and children like to play. It is what they do and how they learn.

We parents are in the prime position to continue to enlarge our children’s brains through play. But, with work and other obligations, and especially if we weren’t played with as children by our parents, it may feel that we don’t have the time or knowledge to add “playtime” to our over-burdened schedules.

These game ideas in this article hope to show you that we don’t need a lot of time or special equipment and that we all have a sense of play within us. The suggestions below will feel do-able and can be done with a “moment here, a moment there” and with no more materials than a good mood.

Try out some of these ideas for a spontaneous game with your infant or let them inspire you to do others. Your babies will think they are just having fun, but you’ll know they are making new synaptic connections!


tounge picEven as young as 3 months, infants can play the tongue game. When you have their attention, stick your tongue out. It may be rude in some circumstances, but, to an infant, it is fascinating. It’s kinda like having a interesting snake in your mouth that pops out. You’ll find that often baby will imitate you which means, not only did they figure out which body part you used, but also how to move it. Once they can do that, add variations such as moving your tongue side to side or up and down. This tongue control will serve your child well when they start to form words.


Babies first need to learn who is in their world (mom, sis, dog, etc.) and next, they need to learn what. Take your infant for a tour of the house and introduce the various things. “This is a table, this is the door-it opens and closes” and so on. Don’t worry that your baby is too small to understand, they are absorbing the information and enjoying being the focus of attention with the one they love. Don’t forget to do an outdoor tour. Besides inserting knowledge, showing an infant a flower or a leaf is a great way to distract them from a fussy moment.


When you are changing a diaper (and when aren’t you changing a diaper!), sing a song! Sing a song about what you are doing and use whatever tune strikes your fancy. For example ,if you use the tune for “Frera Jacque’; you might sing:

I’m a wiping your precious little bottom

I am wiping it all clean.

Then I take anew diaper

Put it on you nice and tight

Nice and tight, nice and tight Oh Oh Oh Oh

If nothing else, singing will get you in a good mood!


Placing an ice cube on baby’s high chair tray can be fascinating fun as she chases it around and tries to pick it up. It can be a great activity to keep baby occupied while you get the dishes washed. But, of course, as with all infant activities, stay observant. You want that ice cube to be replaced with a bigger one before it gets small enough to swallow.


At first, babies think things appear and disappear so here is a simple game to show them that things still exist even though it might look like it is out of sight. And it’s always nice to find a use for a toilet tube roll. Place a small object into the tube and make a big deal about wondering where it went. She may look inside the tube and later figure out to pick it up and find the object underneath. Add to the challenge by using a paper towel tube!

In essence, we parents are in the position to participate in our children’s mental growth and by playing games, we also let them know that we love them so much that we take the time to play with them.



*Images courtesy Facebook Friends:Above photo Ashton Berkhimer, courtesy Brandi Albritton-Berkhiner founder of My Little Sunshine Face- Down Syndrome Aware, Share, & Care?

previously published in in their March/April 2014 issue

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