By Rebecca Lee
Studies like the 2005 study done by Sara Robertson, a Family Science Specialist from NDSU Extension Service , show that your baby's mind develops rapidly within the first three years of his life. During this period, synapses (linkages among your baby’s brain cells) form as the baby brain grows. Exposing your child to more stimuli (for example, books and educational toys) during his first few years will encourage the synapses to develop at a more rapid pace and aid his intellectual development. This article will propose some learning resources for your baby, as well as how you can get good quality resources at a lower cost.
During his first three months , as indicative by an article written by Mary L Gavin, MD on Kids Health, your baby will gradually increase their waking hours and become more curious about their parents and various items that they see. They also start being able to coordinate movements and become physically stronger.
You may also want to get some books that incorporate nursery rhymes, for example, Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham and Hop on Pop or Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon. Research has shown that listening to rhymes help in developing infants’ memories. Singing songs or nursery rhymes to your baby will also help his cognitive development. Reading to your baby can start as early as in his infancy, when you can sing songs to him or read to him to get him to fall asleep. This can progress all the way till he's three years old and beyond. One of my fondest childhood memories was being sung to as I slept when I was an adolescent, and perhaps tellingly, I still remember the lyrics of the songs today.
During his infancy, you may want to buy him soft, small pillows or bolsters so that he can hug them to sleep, providing a sense of comfort without you physically having to be in close contact with him. This also has an added benefit of training him about his bedtimes. Brands like BabySafe carry a range of pillows and bolsters made from natural latex that are safe for baby’s use and machine washable as well.
Mobiles and balls are also great toys for him to have at this stage as he will learn to track objects and follow their movements.
As for toys, whatever you're planning to get will probably get tossed around and end up chipped, broken or drooled on, thus something like building blocks which are sturdy may be a good investment. Also, he'll learn how to stack them up, which will test both his motor skills as well as creativity.
From about three to six months of age, your baby will be able to grasp things, and will most likely want to experiment with moving objects thereafter. He would possibly be interested in opening and closing drawers, as well as hitting things and throwing objects around. At this age, he might also be putting things into his mouth. It's important therefore, that his toys are clean, and do not come with any small parts that he might choke on. Buy squeeze toys and rattles that are large enough that he can't put any part into his mouth.
You'll want to get your baby some picture books so that they can get a headstart on identifying letters, colours and objects. You don't have to get the best and the latest – there are many similar books on such basic concepts available in the market at a reasonable price. In fact, you can also borrow such books from the library.
When it comes to licensed character toys such as Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh, you may want to consider brands with merchandise that are easily available. There could be instances when once a character becomes a child’s favourite, trying to acquire the assorted merchandise could pose a problem. Trawling eBay may not be easy and cost-effective as well as rare items tend to sell for a premium. A recent incident with a set of twins perhaps illustrates this best – having been unable to find them the Papa Smurf toys that come with the Happy meal at McDonald's, we resorted to looking online on eBay, where the items sold for about S$12 each, significantly higher than if we'd originally bought the figurine with the Happy Meal. This was compounded by the fact that we had to buy two of the same figurine for both twins.
Where to get it from
Madeline Thomas, financial journalist and author of Babyconomic, shares some tips on how to cut costs in the first year of a baby's life. She reckons that “parents can save a fortune and still get good quality toys and books by shopping around.” There are a couple of ways to keep your overheads low while purchasing books and toys for your child, who will probably use it effectively for a couple of years before he outgrows or gets tired of them.
You may already be receiving toys from your friends and family for the baby. Some may be slightly age-inappropriate, so you could put those away till your child is old enough. That way, he'll always have something 'new' to play with.
One of the most economical ways is probably to borrow from friends and family. Those who have children slightly older than your newborn can always hand down their toys and books which their children have outgrown, so your baby will always have a constant stream of new reading material and toys to play with.
- Warehouse Sales
Every year, the bigger bookstores like Popular, Times and MPH would have mega-sales, where older stock makes way for new publications. Aside from the annual Singapore Book Fair around May and June, there're also the periodical book sales at the EXPO, where you can get good bargains for children’s books. Check out the next EXPO book sale at (http://singaporeexpo.com.sg).
- Toy Stores
Other than better known outlets such as Toys 'R' Us or Kiddy Palace, you could try out the toy stores at Tai Sing at North Bridge Road, which sells affordable, non-branded toys. For durable and quality wooden toys, you may want to check out The Better Toy Store at Orchard or Tanglin Road. Growing Fun, which has outlets in Paragon, Suntec City, United Square, VivoCity and Parkway Parade, is also another toy store that you may want to check out in order to purchase toys to develop your baby's cognitive skills.
- Garage Sales
You may not get the chance to see garage sales very often; but if you do, it’s worth the while to go down and have a look. Most of the times, it could be that the owners are returning to their home country. As the sellers are usually more interested in getting rid of their stuff than trying to make a killing, toys and books may go for as low as $1 each, perfect when you're just starting out.
- Thrift Stores
Thomas recommends heading to charity shops for books and toys where tons of them can be found. Most notably, there's usually a large selection of stuffed toys that have been “pre-loved”. So if you're searching for something cuddly to let your newborn hold on to, charity shops such as The Salvation Army could be one of the places that you could check out.
- Online Sources
Besides eBay, you can also check out various forums like Singapore Motherhood, MummySg and SingaporeMoms.com to interact with other parents and source for good bargains. You can also rent toys online from www.toyrentalclub.com, a website that rents a variety of toys as well as nursing equipment, car seats and more.
While books and toys are important tools in contributing to your baby's development both physically and mentally, they cannot replace your involvement in your child’s life. You have a more vital role to play in encouraging your child’s development through interacting and bonding with him. The time you set aside to read to her, talk with her or just play with her is priceless. There is no book or toy that could replace the time you spent in nurturing this special bond.