From the day they are born, your baby's brain cells (neurons) are being shaped by the world around them by making connections with one another. All their senses; sight, smell, movement, sounds and touch are being constantly stimulated, which builds brain development.
But how much is just right and how much is too much?
Research into infant brain development suggests that babies who are stimulated reach their developmental milestones faster than those that are not.
We saw just how much the lack of stimulation affected babies in Romanian orphanages in the late 80's early 90's. Media reports of hundreds of orphans in overcrowded institutions rocking themselves and reaching out to be touched, tugged at our heartstrings. With nothing to stimulate them other than looking up at the ceilings, it was no surprise that their brains were significantly smaller.
So how do we stimulate our babies without overstimulating them? The balance seems tricky, but it isn't if you study your baby's cues. I remember smiling, chatting and blowing raspberries at my daughters when they were babies, one minute they couldn't get enough of giggling and the next they were crying. What was I doing wrong? It took a little while, but eventually I started to read their cues.
Timing is everything. I find with younger babies, mornings are their best times for an activity.They wake up and smile at you and feel ready for the day ahead. However after being picked up and looking at different scenery and things around them when they are being carried or listening to various noises like the radio playing in the background, or the sound of traffic as you nip to the shops can suddenly seem like too much! Without you realising their senses have been stimulated for a good few hours and by midday or early afternoon they have had enough.
The problem you have now is that you have booked to do an afternoon class with them, so how do you get your little grumpy baby to engage?
You can't. So take a step back and look at your routine. If you have had a busy morning, it's unlikely your baby is ready to be stimulated by doing lots of activities in the afternoon. However if you have a quiet morning, then perhaps an afternoon activity is feasible. The trick is to book classes or activities at a time that suits you and your baby, so you know your baby will be at their best.
Classes are often more for parents to have some interaction, than for the babies themselves. So by all means do them, but maybe not every day? Your baby's biggest entertainment is actually you!
Lying next to your baby, talking to them, smiling, looking at picture books, swaying with them to music or just exploring different objects or textures for them to touch, is often enough. They don't need lots of toys to stimulate them until they are older and can play independently. Meanwhile never underestimate the fun you can have with a homemade shaker, by putting some uncooked rice in a container, or placing them under a mobile they can reach with their hands and feet.
When do you know your baby has reached their limit for playtime? Before the ultimate cue, crying!
Turning away from you or the activity is normally the first sign. They are showing you that they have lost interest. Arching their back and making fussing sounds, like 'eh'. Closing their eyes to shut out what is going on around them and even hiccupping can mean 'I have had enough now, please let's stop and have some quiet time'.
When your baby is ready to play again, they will soon let you know by looking into your eyes, moving their arms and legs to tell you they are ready to be stimulated again. 'Hey look at me, I'm ready to play'.
It takes a little practice, but you will both soon work out what works and what doesn't. The most important thing is to have that quality time, getting to know each other. Happy playtime!