We all know how much fun bath time can be for our babies (especially with an Otteroo!) and how essential it is to keep them clean and healthy. But did you know that this daily ritual is also packed with early development and learning opportunities? Here are 12 things you can do to make bath time fun and developmentally beneficial for your baby!
1. Bath time is great for multi-sensory exploration.
Water is one of the best learning tools for your baby to discover her different senses. While most of her day is spent snug and dry, bath time offers your baby a smorgasbord of sensory stimuli to enjoy. Play with her in the tub and instead of just watching, try pointing out what she’s experiencing, such as feeling water’s liquid state and temperature, hearing water splish-splash with a slap, seeing its transparent and nearly colorless state, seeing things float up, and smelling its odorless scent.
2. Bath time builds fine motor and early math skills.
While it may seem odd, a favorite pastime for babies is filling and pouring water into cups because it’s actually fascinating to them. This simple action can help your child gain fundamental skills, including dexterity, hand-eye coordination, cause and effect, and even early math as she explores water volume and learn numerical terms, such as more, less, empty and full!1 Just give your baby a variety of small plastic cups to experiment with and she’ll be scooping and pouring in no time.
3. Bath time builds parent-child relationships.
Because parents spend most of their time working, cooking, cleaning, and running back and forth between errands and appointments, it’s easy to miss spending true quality time with their children during the course of the day. But with bath time, parents are forced to slow down and pay full attention to their babies in the tub. With bath time being the only tech-free time of day, be sure to have real face time and deep conversations with your baby to support her vocabulary development and attachment and trust with you.
4. Bath time enhances sleep.
Research studies have found that bath time can be used effectively as a destressing time of day to reduce your baby’s cortisol levels, helping her relax and prepare herself for a good night’s sleep.2 This is especially true for warm scented baths!3 Try setting your baby’s bath to a warm, comfortable temperature and add a few drops of lavender oil to the water (but be aware of any skin allergies she may have). Place your baby into her aromatherapy bath and give her a nice massage by stroking her legs, shoulders, neck, tummy, arms in circular movements.
5. Bath time supports visual tracking and hand-eye coordination.
What baby doesn’t LOVE bubbles, especially during bath time!? For younger infants, simply blow bubbles across their field of vision to help support important visual tracking skills.4 Have an older baby? No problem! Try blowing bubbles above the tub and encourage your baby to build her hand-eye coordination by chasing after the bubbles.4 When she sees one in sight…get ready…aim…and pop the bubble with a finger poke!
6. Bath time builds hand and finger strength.
Water play with sponges is a fantastic way to help your baby develop her fine motor skills as she learns to squeeze water from a sponge or water toy.5 Offer your baby a variety of sponges to squeeze and play with, but be sure to make them small enough for her little hands to handle and use successfully. For a greater challenge, invite her to aim and squeeze water into small cups as she increases her small muscle strength and dexterity.
7. Bath time music develops cognitive and language skills.
Young children not only love to learn through music, but their brain connections are also strongly supported by it.6 In particular, singing during bath time can help your baby have fun as she practices her speaking skills singing along to nursery rhymes while acquiring new knowledge and vocabulary. Check out some favorite bath time songs, including Row, Row, Row Your Boat; Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes; and Five Little Ducks.
8. Bath time develops foundations for art and creativity.
Creative art is an important play activity that can enhance your baby’s imagination and creative juices, as well as develop her ability to self-express. If your baby is 24 months and older, provide her with some non-toxic bath paints to play with during bath time and encourage her to finger paint onto the wall of the tub, paint with thick handle paint brushes, and experiment with mixing new colors! Don’t have bath paints handy? Try coloring water by adding food color into clear water cups.
9. Bath time nurtures practical life skills.
After painting the walls of your tub, hand your baby a small wash cloth or sponge to clean the paint off! This activity will not only support her dexterity and small muscle skills, but it will nurture her self-help abilities to clean up after herself as well!
10. Bath time is great for pretend play and role playing.
Young children learn a lot about the world through social interactions and believe it or not, pretend play.7 Give your baby her own plastic baby to wash and care for during bath time. By make believing she is mommy, she can learn how to care for another person, family roles, bathing routine, and even body parts!
11. Bath time supports construction and science discovery.
Did you know that your baby can be a scientist in the tub? Yes, she can! Just give her some foam shapes to play with and you’ll see her learn how to effectively stick the foam pieces onto the wall of the tub. Or encourage her to stack and build a tower using floating foam blocks during bath time. Through trial and error, she’ll soon learn that her foam shapes need water as an adhesive to stick to the tub and to build her tower foundation with a wider more stable base to keep it afloat in the water.
12. Bath time helps with self-regulation and independence.
Young children like and need daily routines because it gives them a sense of control and understanding of what’s going to happen to them next.8 Knowing that bath time is part of her daily routine will help your baby develop a sense of security knowing when to take a bath and how she can help herself in the tub. In addition to these social emotional benefits, your baby will also begin to develop a sense of time and understand the sequence of actions. So be sure to keep bath time regular and predictable!
1 Crosser, S. (1994, July). Making the most of water play. Young Children, 28-32.
2 Mindell, J., Lorena, S., Telofski, B. A., & Kurtz, E. S. (2009). A Nightly Bedtime Routine: Impact on Sleep in Young Children and Maternal Mood. Sleep, 32(5), 599–606.
3 Field, T., Cullen, C., Largie, S., Diego, M., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn, C. (2008). Lavender bath oil reduces stress and crying and enhances sleep in very young infants. Early Human Development, 84(6), 399-401.
4 Play Reminders. Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy. Retrieved from http://www.clel.org/play-reminders.
5 Hendrick, J. (1996). The Whole Child: Developmental Education for the Early Years. Columbus, OH: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
6 Carlton, E. B. (2000, May/June). Learning Through Music: The Support of Brain Research. Child Care Exchange, 133, 53-56. Retrieved from https://ccie-catalog.s3.amazonaws.com/library/5013353.pdf.
7 Lillard, A.S., Lerner, M. D., Hopkins, E. J., Dore, R. A., Smith, E. D., & Palmquist, C. M. (2013). The Impact of Pretend Play on Children’s Development: A Review of the Evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 1–34. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/bul-a0029321.pdf.
8 Why Kids Need Routine. AHA Parenting. Retrieved from http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/family-life/structure-routines.