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04 Dec

crawl5

Try this test: ask 5 parents when their children took their first steps. My guess is that 4 of them will be able to tell you the exact month it happened. Do the same with crawling – I’m guessing maybe 1 or 2 will recall. Walking is important (and fun to get on video), but crawling is also an incredibly important milestone and creates significant long-term benefits. Obviously we all need to learn to walk, but learning to crawl is a critical first step.

As a parent of an almost walker (our little one turns 1 next week), I am doing the opposite of what most parents do. I am trying to delay walking a bit longer, hoping my son keeps crawling for at least another month. Keeping him on his belly a bit longer has a ton of benefits. More are being discovered all the time, but here are 5 of the most important:

1. Strengthens trunk, shoulders, arm and hand muscles. Crawling is incredibly hard work (try it for yourself – it’s not easy!) All of the core muscles work together to maintain an upright position, while the arms and shoulders help propel the baby forward. There are few things that a baby can do to work all of those muscles more efficiently. These months of crawling form the foundation for his or her future core strength. Once your child is vertical and walking, this natural workout for core and upper body muscles will stop.

2. Helps develop binocular vision. Switching between looking down and looking ahead forces the baby’s eyes to continuously focus at different distances. This skill is what your child will use to easily switch between notebook and blackboard when taking notes at school.

3. Improves hand-eye coordination. Crawling will allow a baby to first identify a "target" with his eyes and then use his hands while crawling to guide his body to "acquire the target."

4. Cross communication between both sides of the brain. Bi-lateral movement strengthens both the left and right side of the brain, enhancing communication across the 2 sides. Since each side of the brain has a different function (i.e. the left side sorts & organizes, the right side stores in memory), good cross brain communication can improve your child's ability to learn. It also improves balance and coordination.

5. Helps integrate the Symmetric Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR). This reflex allows us to operate our upper and lower body independently. Children that fail to integrate the STNR are often clumsy and have poor balance & coordination, among other issues. Furthermore, there is interesting research by Dr. Miriam Bender that links the lack of integration of this reflex with learning disabilities and ADHD

The list goes on, but just with the benefits above, you can understand why at BabySparks we are big believers in crawling. Under the Browse by Milestones section of the BabySparks app, there are 20+ activities specifically designed to help your little one master crawling.

 

 

25 Nov

baby crawling

It’s probably the most common question a parent gets when their baby passes 6 months of age. Personally, I dreaded the question. The thought that my son Javi might not be keeping up with the Joneses (or Baby Jones) was the cause of much anxiety for me. Looking back on it now, of course, the whole thing seems silly but that’s only because I have bigger things to worry about; like how I’ll get Javi into the right college (never mind how to pay for it).

The worry was all mine. Javi never gave crawling a second thought. When my son had had enough practice raising his head and scooching around on all his other body parts, he eventually got around to pulling his knees up under his tummy and off he went. What’s the big deal, dad?

And so I had worried for nothing.

I learned that constant worrying about milestones did nothing but add another level of anxiety to that of any first-time parent. I spent more time concerned about crawling than I did watching my little boy experience the world around him. And I did nothing to help him crawl - because, quite honestly, I didn't know how to support him.

The only help I really could have given him would have been to assist him with age-appropriate activities to prepare him for crawling. I could have put him on his tummy more, helped strengthen his limbs, put toys in front of him to help him understand that he could move himself forward. Instead I just stared at him, silently willing him to crawl so I could check that off of his list of things to accomplish and we could move on to stressing out about walking.

Parenthood is stressful enough without adding some unreasonable set of expectations about hitting every milestone at the beginning of the range. Babies are unique and they do things at their own pace. Some will go faster, some slower. The best thing we can do as parents is to just do the next right thing in supporting their development. If you are worried about crawling, check out the Activities by Milestone (and then choose Crawling) on the BabySparks app. We have 20+ activities that are designed to help prepare your baby for this particular milestone (and 7 others).  

While we are firm believers in not micromanaging milestone progression, we also know that there are some babies for whom missing milestones merits further consideration. So pay attention, track progress, and keep an open dialogue with your pediatrician. But be confident that the vast majority of babies crawl (and stand and walk) when they are ready.

Once you do have your baby crawling - keep them there for as long as possible. Beyond tummy time, it is one of the best things you can do for your baby - their fundamental core strength comes from that critical time on the floor. But we'll write more about that on another day.

14 Nov

If you have tried to learn a new language or sport as an adult, the logic behind early stimulation will likely resonate with you. Sure, it is never too late to learn something new, but as an adult it will generally take significantly more effort for you to make that foreign accent completely disappear or for your tennis swing to appear as effortless as your friend’s who started as a toddler.

This is just a fact of life. Our brains develop the fastest when we are babies. According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, “in the first few years of life, 700 new neural connections are formed every second.” The permanent inflow of new connections makes babies' brains extremely flexible and adaptable to learn new skills.

As we get older, those connections are pruned to make our brains more efficient and specialized (which also results in them being less flexible). Repeated use makes connections stronger, while inactive connections become weaker or disappear. Following this logic, consistently exposing our babies to a healthy variety of activities, interactions and situations will help preserve many of those connections and give your baby an opportunity to develop its full potential.  

inbrief image

 

What does this mean for you? How can you maximize the neural benefits in your baby? It certainly doesn't mean that you need to enroll your little one in tennis, Mandarin, piano and math classes in the first year. That said, there is plenty you can do to help your baby establish the foundations of learning and strengthen positive brain connections by making small adjustments in the things you and your baby do on a daily basis.

For example, if you do activities that stimulate coordination and equilibrium, it is likely that this will help your child with learning to ride a bike or to play sports later in life. Stimulating cognitive, language and social aspects of development early in life will make school easier – in the classroom, on the playground, and at home.

Early stimulation looks like playing with your baby (and much of the play you are already doing is early stimulation) - but it is smart play. Take bath time. Put your baby in the tub with a kitchen strainer and some bath toys that he or she can “fish” out. Play, right? Yes, and development of fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. The result is a clean baby, great bonding time, and new neural connections that will have long term benefits.

Want more ideas? Check out the BabySparks app and check out the brain boosting activities presented in the daily routine that are designed to help your baby maximize the first year.

And we will work on getting BabySparks into the Babies"R"Us and Buy Buy Baby registries…

 

10 Oct

We had the fortune to attend a great event in Miami the other night - the Expectant Moms' Night out at Tutti Bambini. If you are expecting a baby or a new mom, there are few places in Miami that offer so many great services - from concierge services to classes to nursery design.

While at the event we got some great questions about the BabySparks development app and we thought we would share them more broadly. If you have questions of your own, feel free to post them here or on our Facebook page and we'll get back to you ASAP. We love feedback and are very interested in what you have to say.

This week's questions:

1. How early should parents start supporting their babies' development with early stimulation?

The truth is that it is never too early. From the minute your baby is born, there are opportunities for helping boost development. Many of those things in the early days are introducing the baby to its senses - through the sound of your voice or gentle music, by making different faces, and exposing your newborn to different smells.

Surprising as it may be, you can also start tummy time almost immediately - even before the umbilical cord has fallen off. The earlier you start, the better for the baby. One way to introduce tummy time gently is to turn the baby over onto its stomach for 30 seconds to 1 minute after each diaper change. Then it just becomes part of the routine.

The BabySparks app has 20+ similar activities for newborns - you can download the app and see a few.

 

2. Why do you have speech in your app if the current activities are for babies under 1 year of age?

Even though babies won't articulate actual words until they near their first birthday (or beyond), there is a great deal we can do to help them use sounds to communicate. By 2 months old, you might notice that your baby is already paying attention when there are adults speaking. In subsequent months, your baby will develop a repertoire of babbles, sighs, coos, and gurgles. The baby might understand very simple instructions (i.e., "pick up the toy" or "crawl to mommy") and shakes its head "no" by 9 months old.

In general, your child is establishing all the communication foundations that will allow speech when the time is right. The BabySparks app gives you ideas to support the process of language acquisition through the first year so that these foundations are established as strongly as possible to help transition to verbal communication.

3. Why is there no product for 3- and 4-year olds?

The current set of 300+ activities are all dedicated to babies 0 - 12 months old. In the next several months we will offer activities for babies from 1 - 2 years old. We will stop at age 2 for this specific type of application. The reason is that after 2 years old, there are many options for parents to continue to support their toddlers' and preschoolers' development. Sports, arts, music and other classes are all very stimulating to young children.

We felt that in the first 2 years of life was when parents required the greatest amount support and decided to create a product to help them in this stage of their babies' lives. Parents of newborns and infants might not feel comfortable (or be able to afford) going to a different early stimulation class every day of the week. BabySparks gives them the ability to help their babies in whatever circumstance they find themselves - and they can have a big impact with just a few minutes daily.

With our first son we were in London, at the mercy of its challenging weather conditions. Some days were fantastic for walks in the park, playing in the grass, exploring all that the city could offer. But other days we were trapped by the rain and gloom. Doing stimulation activities at home meant that my son got his necessary dose of input, regardless of what Mother Nature had in store.

 

Do you have a question about the app? About infant development? Put it in the comments and we'll get back to you quickly.

 

 

16 Sep

Becoming a new parent brings new challenges at every turn. What kind of stroller? Cloth diapers or disposable? Breast or bottle? Which approach to sleep do you want to take? And now, with the proliferation of smart phones and all of the fantastic apps for iPhones and Androids, there are more questions to answer.

This is not a definitive list, to be sure - there are new apps every day. But these are the ones we used with our first and are using with our 9-month old today.

1 - Kindle (iPhone or Android)

Not a baby app, but a baby survival app for me. There were a lot of late night feedings and snugglings where I had 15 - 45 minutes of time. Certainly there were times that I just stared at my son's face, but often I used the time to read. Prior to motherhood, I was a staunch supporter of paper-only reading. I love to read more than most things and I was going to stand with the book people to the end. And then I had a tiny baby in my arms and couldn't juggle a book and the baby while he ate. So my staunch support faded away and now I'm almost exclusively an electronic reader. Sad, but true. But at least I still read.

2 - Total Baby (iPhone)

I still use this app for both of my boys. It lets you track feedings (breast or bottle), diapers, sleep, doctors appointments, vaccines, milestones, and more. I love the handy CDC and WHO growth charts (see below) and being able to go back and see when it was that my first son had an ear infection. This app saved me during the first weeks and months when I sometimes couldn't remember my own name but needed to know when I had last fed the little one and whether or not he'd had sufficient wet diapers.

Growth Chart

3 - My Smart Hands (iPhone or Android)

There are lots of sign language apps on the market - many of them great. This one was my favorite, as it has handy little videos to show you how to use sign language. My little one is 9 months old now and I'm beginning to use sign language again. Lots of kids struggle to speak and get frustrated when they can't communicate with words. Sign language can significantly reduce that frustration. We only used a few signs with my first son ("more" and "all done" and "up"), but it made a difference. We have a bilingual household, which often means later talkers. So I'll be breaking this app out again soon.

SignLanguage

4 - Amazon (iPhone or Android) and Diapers.com (iPhone or Android)

Diapers in two days. At your door. Enough said. If you're an Amazon shopper, join Amazon Mom to get great discounts on diapers and other items. When you spend money, you get free months of Amazon Prime, so you can get free 2-day delivery.

5 - White Noise Machine - by TMSoft (iPhone only)

This is great for keeping the baby's room sleep-ready... for blocking out dogs barking, snoring, and more.  There have been some studies recently that warn against constant white noise. So check the volume level and vary between white noise and some of the other sounds.

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There are lots of apps.. so many. But these are the ones that we absolutely can't live without. What apps do you need to have?