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19+ superb games for kindergartners that are fun AND educational

By Dallas Stevens



This year I have spent all twelve months stocking our family’s entryway closet with board games and activities. In fact, we have more fun board games for toddlers in our house than we have broken crayons and spare socks combined… and that’s a lot.

Too many days in the past our family was looking for a fun, relaxing night together and we’d switch on the TV searching for a movie. It was easy, but we paid the price.

The price being time well spent making solid memories with one another.
The price being engaging learning opportunities.
The price being giving our kids screens instead of our attention. 

Perusing online deals and $3 thrift shop games has become a pastime. Because I know an investment of under $5 is the cheapest entertainment around. I also know that even spending $50 on an amazing game will pay for itself by not going to the movie theaters even just once. Or not getting a tutor because gameschooling is the best schooling. Or it even pays for itself after 6 months if we decide to ditch Netflix or approximately 10 movies rented on Amazon Prime.

So we’ve invested.

And the dividends are priceless.

Our 4-year-old learned basic math. Our whole family spends time together. And introducing new learning skills (or facilitating what taught in school) isn’t a battle, it’s an enjoyable treat.

Unique & Amazing Board games for 4 to 6 year olds

The teacher in me wants every experience to have some level of learning. And YES all games can teach something. But I love the games that are well thought out and a little more off the beaten path best. So I’ve compiled 19 of our family’s favorite games for 5-year-olds (with a range on either side) plus about 6 more common board games for early elementary kids.

And if you have any other great suggestions, be sure to share them in the comments!

These educational board games for toddlers help develop strategy, problem-solving, logic, focus & attention, math, language, science, movement and  cooperation skills.

Rivers, Roads, and Rails

Strategy, problem-solving, logic, focus & attention, geography
Buy it on Amazon

This game was on a wish list of mine for two years and it didn’t disappoint. It really helps kids understand how to logically plan, but also to be flexible as each turn can really change how the next play plays. It’s also great for teaching kids some of the modes of transportation but also attention skills because of small details that make cards either playable or not.

Robot Turtles

Strategy, coding, focus & attention, math
Buy it on Amazon

A fun game of patterning and basic coding, this game is a favorite between my 5-year-old Jenn and my husband. In fact, it was the entry into other coding games and activities for her.

Sum Swamp

Buy it on Amazon

It’s a really cute game with number recognition, addition and subtraction, odds, and evens, and general early math skills.

We introduced this game to Jenn when she was 4 and it was the perfect way for her to learn basic math without even know that’s what she was actually doing. We busted out some counting cubes too to help her visualize the math until she gets better.


Guess Who

Vocabulary, logic, strategy, attention skills
Buy it on Amazon

Yep, it’s a classic. But a fun way to play it is to make a rule that your kids can’t ask questions like “If your person a man” or things of that nature. If you want to get really into details, maybe do an art project where you add tiny images to the pictures to force better attention to detail.

Giggle Wiggle

Movement and motor skills
Buy it on Amazon

This is a good game for kindergarteners because it requires hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and even some strategy as they plan when to add their marble. Now if only we could play without the music…


Strategy, focus & attention
Buy it on Amazon

This is not your ordinary matching game! I honestly bought it for our almost three yeard old, Emma as a matching and color recognition game. But as we played, it had so many great concepts for both of our girls. My kindergartener was able to dive a little deeper with the strategy and memory (because even penguins that have already been claimed can be remembered in order to get another roll of the dice on your turn!)

Press Here

Art, logic and problem solving
Buy it on Amazon

Based on a book (that I also highly recommend), Press Here plays with color theory. It has an interesting element of logic because while some of the answers have a cut and dry conclusion, some cards could have mulitple answers and all players have to agree upon the person’s explanation. We even play this with the younger kids in our house too!

Race to the Treasure

Cooperative, strategy, geography
Buy it on Amazon

Some basic map skills and team work will get you to the treasure! This is a great game that was brought as entertainment for 13 kindergarteners at a birthday party… because cooperation was required and no one could leave sad. It’s not super complex, but still fun, especially at an age where working together is a skill that should be built.

Goblet Gobblers

Strategy, problem-solving
Buy it on Amazon

Tic Tac Toe is kind of boring, but goblet gobblers adds a fun twist and strategy to ultimately elminate someone else’s play.


Attention, language skills
Buy it on Amazon

This is a fabulous game for the entire family no matter how young, but as kids get into kindergarten, it’s great for working on reading and language skills. Of course, match the pictures, but do they know how to read the word? Add an element of fun by adding a bit of electrical tape to cover up eithe the words or pictures to really work on spelling and reading.

Make N’ Break

Movement, strategy, spatial skills, logic, focus & attention
Buy it on Amazon

We started playing this family game wit no timer as “just make the picture” and progressed from there. It really built on our kids’ spatial skills and even motor skills as they stacked blocks!


Art, math, logic
Buy it on Amazon

We orginally got this for our 2-year-old to learn colors, but it’s also a great game for young kids to play together. It focuses on patterns and making colorful snakes!

Rory’s Story Cubes

Language skillscreativity & imagination
Buy it on Amazon

There are actually multiple versions and expansion sets, but the premise is the same… roll the dice and tell a story. I love this with kids of all ages both young and old because it forces creativity and builds this language and storytelling skills.


Math, art, logic & planning ahead
Buy it on Amazon

This games is all about shapes, colors, and patterns. Almost like a mixture of banangrams (which by the way, kids’ banangramas is GREAT for teaching wor formation and the sounds of letters), rummy, and a bunch of colorful shapes.

It teaches kids to logically plan ahead and build patterns and sequences.


Art, language skills, creativity & imagination
Buy it on Amazon

A wonderful, and beautiful, apples-to-apples type of game that encourages your child to use their descriptive words@ It helps kids looks at art in a creative way or even literal way! Each active player has to describe their card and then everyone else choose a card from their hand they think could closely match the decription. Then everyone tries to guess which card is the “real” card being described! If you get any “scary looking” cards, just take them out before playing.

eeboo Fairytale spinner

language skills, creativity & imagination
Buy it on Amazon

I found this one at a thrift store and thought I would give it a try and it turned out to be a HUGE HIT. One of the reasons that I love it as a teacher is that it focuses on the elements of a story. For instance a player has to spin in order to choose a setting, a hero, and other parts to what will then become their masterpiece of a fairytale story!

Cookin’ Cookies

Life Skills, focus & attention, cooking
Buy it on Amazon

While it doesn’t give the quantities in the recipes, it gives a basic understanding that one must have certain ingredients to make certain recipes. It also shows that food can go bad and is a fun twist on a memory game to gather up the cards you need for your own recipe! (Though… we have lost one of our telescoping spoons).

Shut the Box

Math, strategy
Buy it on Amazon

We picked this up at a local toystore on vacation and it was great family fun! The object is to shut all the numbers on the box! It requires some srategy if your kindergartener is going to add up the numbers (practicing their math skills) or use the individual numbers on the dice to shut as many as possible.

Games that get honorable mention for still being great for young kids, but maybe a little more common

Just to throw a few more games out there that we enjoy playing at this age are as follows: Mystery Garden, 4 in a row, Brainiac, Busytown, Scrabble Jr., Boggle Jr.. Each have different teaching tools from spelling to strategy, etc.

And I would say Catan Jr. too since it’s pictured above, but it requires an adult team member because it’s a bit complex for kindergarteners.

But I would really love to know what YOUR family’s favorite game for this age group is!

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Parenting without Saying No

By Dallas Stevens



Parenting is a delicate balance of knowing how to raise your kids with integrity while also preparing them for the real world.

Sometimes this means doing things that seem counter-intuitive to make sure our kids are actually hearing what we are saying and learning from situations.

Something that I learned from teaching and in the first couple of years of parenthood is that opportunities to talk to children without saying no is so important. Now as a mother of two, parenting without saying no, don’t, and stop is an important part of my every single day.


Parenting without saying no and creating boundaries for our children with intentional wording. 

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that hearing no is really tough. And in a very real sense, I by no means want my children to grow up without having ever been told no and my kids still hear no on a daily basis. It is absolutely part of life and one I want them to hear.

However, I have drastically cut down on its use in our home by saying no without actually using the word. And in cutting down, it has made use of the word more effective for us. So why would I advocate for adopting the “parenting without saying no” approach?

Very simply… because they listen better.

The way we are hard wired as humans is to listen to the sentence structure. We sometimes hear the first part of a sentence, almost always hear the last part, but rarely hear the middle unless we have our complete attention on the person talking to us. And really, what young child is giving us their undivided attention at all times?

Beyond just the way we hear, it’s also important for all of us to have clear directions. If we are given vague instructions, it leaves a lot of gray area. This is because there are a thousand alternatives to “not” doing something, but only one course of action that should be done when told specifically what to do.

So why would we not want to stop saying no to kids and adopt a system that helps our children listen to us better? Or be more obedient?

Read about and listen to my podcast episode on the power of saying MAYBE.

So how do I remove negative words when talking to my child?

It’s really easy to say no… WAY too easy. So it’s not going to be a cake walk to retrain your mind to ditch negative words and actions like “no”, “stop”, “don’t”, “can’t”, etc. but it is possible. It took me a long time and I am still not perfect. It’s all about practice.

Instead of saying “I can’t talk right now” when I am waiting on hold on the phone and my daughter comes to ask me a question, I say “I am on the phone right now. I can talk to you in a little bit”. I do this because I am focusing on what she is going to hear. If she is not giving me her undivided attention, she may only hear “talk right now”. Instead, I want her to hear “on the phone” and “in a little bit”.

Related: Need help navigating your child’s behaviors?

Likewise, if my daughter is in danger and is too close to the street I am not about to yell “Don’t go in the street!” because I don’t want her to hear the last half of it. I want her to hear “Come here please!” or “Move away from the street!”

Alternatives to saying no & using negative language with kids

There are numerous examples I could give, but thought some of the best were in the image above. We have also replace “don’t touch” with “please keep your hands to yourself”/”please keep your hands in your pockets” (we go to antique stores a lot).

And my husband is working on not using “my ears don’t hear whining” because she has shut down too many times. Instead, we encourage her to use her words and express her emotions in a way that we can understand.

Read more from Parents with Confidence about adapting your parenting style to your child’s needs.

Is it possible to discipline without saying no?

Yes! This has everything to do with the idea of being intentional with our words and giving clear instructions to our children. Using positive phrasing actually has the ability to set clearer boundaries than the word no itself.

Magda Gerber once said “A child who is never told “no” is a neglected child.” And I completely agree, but sometimes it’s also more about how we tell them no, rather than the word itself! We must affirm what our children need to do. Rather than discipline and teach them by telling them what not to do, it’s a lot easier to tell them exactly what we want them to do. In telling a child not to hit, maybe he thinks “Well can I kick?”

When my daughter threw a small wooden ball and it hit me in the forehead instead of saying “NO! Don’t throw that!” I simply said “Ow! That really hurt. Please keep your toys in your hands.”

In the end my parenting has become much more intentional by using negative language and “no” less and coming up with a more positive approach. It makes the power of “no” retain its meaning and has created clear boundaries for my children.

Get the Positive Discipline Cheat Sheet

Need help reframing how you see or respond to situations with your kids? This cheat sheet will help you through some of those tough moments when you want to react with frustration instead of love. The sneak peek is below, but be sure to subscribe to download the full, printable version!



Watch this response to many of your questions & concerns about reducing negative parenting language.


**Edited for Author’s Notes:


  • The list provided is simply a visual to help say no less. In fact, that is the thesis of my article. In no way have we ditched the word “no” forever. It’s all about finding alternatives and choices, especially in the hard moments as a parent when nothing is working.
  • Also, the phrasing of “negative language” and “positive language” simply refers to the grammatical English term in that the sentence is or is not negative.
  • For more responses, such as one to the “we will not buy that” alternative, please watch the video. It explains how we say no, divert attention, and create boundaries with our words. Thank you all for your great feedback and responses!

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By Dallas Stevens




Activities and ideas for teaching kids about having a positive attitude

You are a living magnet. What you attract into your life is in harmony with your dominant thoughts.

– Brian Tracy

We used this marble wand to demonstrate and explore the concept behind the quotation above.

Magnet activities for kids to explore what it means to attract positive thoughts into their lives

When we surround ourselves with positive experiences, positive people and positive influences then we can be sure to have a more positive mindset.

Here are some sample discussion questions that can be used along with magnet activities to inspire positive thinking for kids:

  • What makes you happy?  Why?
  • Who are your best friends?  How do they make you feel?
  • What is your favourite activity?  How does it feel when you do it?
  • Where do you enjoy spending time?  Why?
  • When you feel happy, how does it influence your actions towards others?
  • What can you do to ensure a positive attitude every day?
  • If you wake up and think, “This is going to be a great day!” what do you think will happen?  How about if you think, “This is going to be a bad day”?

Magnet activities for kids to explore having a positive attitude

Magnets, of course, can be used for many fun educational activities.  Please note that they should always be used under adult supervision.

Here are some more magnet activities to try:

4 Fun Magnet Activities for Preschoolers from Teaching Mama

9 Magnet Play Activities from What Do We Do All Day

Fun Science Experiments: Magnet Magic from Babble Dabble Do

You may also like to check out this post with 10 more activities about developing a positive attitude.

Fun tools to explore magnetism from

Magnetic toys and tools from can be found here

Thanks to for sponsoring this post as well as 10 readings of my storybook Mason’s Greatest Gems.  The book shares how to “mine your inner gems” and develop virtues.  Character building activities such the one described in this post are a great follow-up to the story. has donated each institution I visit a $100 gift voucher to use on educational materials from their extensive range.

Activities and storybook for kids to learn about new virtues

I recently enjoyed visiting a primary school in Mount Isa (outback Queensland) to do a reading.  This visit was especially fun because the kids knew all about mining as their town had a huge mine in it!

After the book reading, I asked the children to name the virtue from the scenarios on the free printable found here and the child who answered correctly got to stand up in front of the group holding the gemstones I had prepared (pictured above).  After all the gems on the worksheet had been covered, we went through the virtues again by asking for new examples (and the students then sat down as their virtue had a new example described).

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10 Phrases to Help You Develop a Growth Mindset in Parenting

By Dallas Stevens


One shift in thinking has drastically improved my parenting, and that is moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset about being a mom. This growth mindset says – you are always learning and it’s never too late to make a more positive choice. When you make a mistake it’s not an indication that you are doomed to be a failure; it’s an opportunity to grow.

The concept is easy enough to understand, but changing the thinking habits I had wasn’t as simple. One of the interesting things about growth mindset that Carol Dweck states in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, is that we can have a growth mindset about one area of life, but not another – that’s how I was about parenting. I had a growth mindset about things like creativity and academic learning. However, when it came to parenting, I expected myself to be a natural at being a mom.

I felt so awful about making mistakes in parenting. I’d feel so terribly guilty that I could barely make room for more positive, growth oriented thoughts. However, over time I discovered certain phrases that would quiet down the negative judgmental inner voice and allow me to learn instead of getting stuck in a place of depression and hopelessness. Here is a collection of 10 helpful tips about the growth mindset for parents.

If you’d like to be reminded regularly of ways to have a growth mindset, connect with your kids and communicate effectively, make sure you sign up here to get an invite to Bounceback Texts.

10 Phrases to Encourage a Growth Mindset in Parenting

  • Always learning – short and simple, you can think about this phrase to remind yourself that it’s healthy to be in the process of learning, you don’t have to know everything.
  • Connection, not perfection – this is my personal favorite growth mindset phrase for  remembering the priority in my relationships is connection, not getting every detail perfect. It is useful to think when I find myself getting stressed about a family event not going as planned, when I want to support a friend and don’t quite know the right words, or when I find myself waiting for just the right time to talk or play with my kids. Connection, not perfectionnudges me towards what matters most.
  • I’m in tune with my kids and I can make adjustments to our routines when needed. Have you ever felt like a failure when your perfectly worked out routine falls to pieces? It’s helpful to  remember that your job is actually paying attention to this and making a change.
  • This used to work for us (or I thought this would work for us) but I am empowered – I can make a change when things aren’t working. It can be hard to have a growth mindset when something you thought would be perfect for your family….isn’t. We put a lot of store in parenting choices like schooling, breastfeeding, foods we feed our kids, childcare, sleeping arrangements and so on. It’s not to say the way we handle these decision isn’t important, they are. However it is a mistake to believe there is one right way and if you find it everything will be great. Sometimes we have to make a change, and it can be humbling and scary, but holding on to patterns that don’t work for your family is no way to be a leader. Which leads us to another phrase that helps you have a growth mindset about parenting…
  • It takes strength and wisdom to recognize you need to change course, and then take action to make that change. 
  • I made a mistake and I am a big enough person to learn from it and move forward instead of clinging to something that isn’t working. Sometimes it stings to admit we were wrong, but compounding a mistake by clinging to something that isn’t working for you isn’t the answer. Learning from it and moving on is freeing.
  • It’s never too late to make a more positive choice. Sometimes I’ve been caught up thinking that everything is a mess – why bother? This phrase reminds me that making a more positive choice is always an option.
  • I can change directions. I can start over from now. Some days we need a do-over. Permission granted. You can start over from now.
  • I am a work in progress and this is part of that progress. It’s great to have a vision of where you want to be, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that the process of learning and growing has great value. You are someone valuable right now.
  • I always have potential for growth. Yes you do – you are not too old, too broken, too dumb. You have potential for growth. It’s helpful for me to remember I am not stuck being one particular way; through effort and time I can change if I wish.
  • What have I learned from this? Reflecting on what you’ve learned, even from the most uncomfortable situations, helps you grow.
  • Mistakes mean I’m learning. I always loved the song my Dad would sing to me when I was a kid that had a chorus that said, “Oops, you made a mistake, and you’re beautiful to me.

What phrase do you like to say to yourself to help you remember that you don’t have to be perfect?

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15 Creative Nursery Themes That Will Surround Your Baby With Dreams and Adventure

By Dallas Stevens


Expecting a baby comes with a lot of necessary forward-planning to make sure that you and your home are ready for the little one's arrival. While some of the planning is more on the logistical and practical side, it's also a chance to design and plan your baby's nursery. Creating a space where your baby feels warm, loved, and nurtured and which encourages their imagination as they grow is something that all parents strive for. If you're not sure where to start or just want some inspiration for your new baby's new space, check out some of these 15 creative and unique baby nursery themes ideas.

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23 Gifts That Won't Fit Under the Tree But Are Going to Be Huge Hits

By Dallas Stevens

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What Babies Learn In the Womb

By Gen Cohen

They're doing and thinking a lot more than we used to believe

By Laura Flynn Mccarthy via


The first time I played my acoustic guitar for my son, Michael, he was just a few months old. But even though the only other occasions he could have heard me play was when I was pregnant with him, he turned around and gave me a smile that seemed to say, "I recognize that sound!"Was it possible that he was remembering what he had heard in the womb?

For years, doctors assumed that babies were born without any knowledge about the outside world. But recent research is questioning this assumption, offering clues to what babies comprehend in utero, what they remember after they're born, and how that information prepares them for the world outside the womb. Today, doctors realize that babies begin to engage many of their senses and to learn about the world around them during the last trimester of pregnancy—and maybe even before. Keep reading to find out more about how your baby learns in the womb.

What's That Noise?

The uterus isn't exactly the quietest place to hang out. Not only can a baby hear the sounds of his mom's body—her stomach growling, her heart beating, the occasional hiccup or burp—but he can also hear noises from beyond. If mom sits in a movie theater with state-of-the-art sound or walks by a noisy construction site, odds are the fetus will react to all the ruckus by kicking or shifting around.

Of course, not all sounds are the same. Perhaps the most significant one a baby hears in utero is his mother's voice. Around the seventh and eighth month, a fetus's heart rate slows down slightly whenever his mother is speaking, indicating that mom's voice has a calming effect.

By the time they're born, babies can actually recognize their mother's voice. In one study, doctors gave day-old infants pacifiers that were connected to tape recorders. Depending on the babies' sucking patterns, the pacifiers either turned on a tape of their mother's voice or that of an unfamiliar woman's voice. The amazing result: "Within 10 to 20 minutes, the babies learned to adjust their sucking rate on the pacifier to turn on their own mother's voice," says the study's coauthor William Fifer, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. "This not only points out a newborn's innate love for his mother's voice but also a baby's unique ability to learn quickly."

Interestingly, there is no evidence that newborns show a similar preference for their father's or siblings' voices, or for any other voices they may have heard frequently while in the uterus. "The difference could be that the maternal voice is communicated to the fetus in two ways: as ambient sound through the abdomen and internally through the vibration of vocal chords," says Janet DiPietro, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University. "In contrast, external voices and other noises are only heard as ambient sounds."

In fact, research has shown that if newborns are given a choice, they prefer the version of mom's voice that sounds closest to what they heard in the womb. "In studies where we gave day-old babies a choice of hearing their mother's voice filtered to sound as it did in utero—muffled and low—or as it does outside of the womb, they showed a distinct preference for the filtered voice," says Fifer.

An Ear for Language

Muffled or not, unborn babies seem to develop a fine ear for certain sounds. Research reveals that babies had their first lessons in their native language while still in utero. They'll suck more vigorously to turn on tape recordings of people speaking in the language of their mothers, rather than in a foreign tongue. Of course, it's likely the babies are picking up on the rhythm and melody of the speech, rather than individual words.

This doesn't mean that moms need to converse directly to their swelling belly to give their child a head start on language, however. A developing fetus gets all the information he needs just by listening in on his mother's conversations with others. He also may be picking up something from any books she reads aloud. Besides being able to tell the difference between English and French, a study shows that babies in the womb may be able to recognize the specific rhythms and patterns of the stories they hear. Pregnant women read out loud one of two stories—The Cat in the Hat or The King, the Mice, and the Cheese—twice a day for six weeks before they delivered their babies. After birth, when the infants were three days old, they were played tape recordings of unfamiliar voices reading those stories: They consistently changed their sucking patterns on the pacifiers to hear the story they'd heard in utero.

Seeing the Light

Since there's no such thing as a womb with a view, it's no great loss that a baby's eyes, which form in the first trimester, are sealed shut until about the seventh month. After they open, the fetus is able to see, but there's little or no light to see anything by. Some doctors have reported, however, that if you shine a very bright light up inside the uterus, the fetus will turn away from it. Similarly, doctors suspect that the fetus may be able to detect a faint glow if a strong light is pointed right at mom's belly. Ultrasound has also revealed that fetuses gradually open and close their eyes more and more as they near delivery, as if practicing for blinking and seeing in the outside world. 

Discriminating Tastes

A pregnant woman really is eating for two, and the quality of what she eats matters as much as the quantity. Taste buds develop in a fetus around the seventh or eighth week and, by week 14, there is some evidence to suggest he can taste bitter, sweet, or sour flavors in the amniotic fluid. As with his other senses, he uses taste to explore the womb around him. Ultrasounds have even shown that fetuses lick the placenta and uterine wall.

Studies indicate that the flavors and aromas of the foods mom eats during pregnancy, which pass through to her amniotic fluid, may affect her baby's taste preferences long after birth. "The more varied a mother's diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding, the more likely that the infant will accept a new food," says Julie Mennella, Ph.D., biopsychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia. Studies have also found that breastfed babies are more willing than those who were formula-fed to consume a new food when they get older. "This could be because they've learned to accept the many different flavors that have passed through the mother's digestive system to her breast milk," says Mennella.

A Nose for Mom

An unborn baby not only tastes foods, but can smell them as well. Doctors have noted that, at birth, amniotic fluid sometimes carries the scent of cumin, garlic, fennel, and other spices a mother has eaten while pregnant. Amniotic fluid, which babies swallow and breathe in during their time in utero, not only has the smells of the foods mom eats, but of mom herself.

That, in fact, may be how newborns recognize their mothers. "It's possible that in the first few hours after birth, a baby's sense of smell may be more important in helping him identify his mother than his vision is," says Mennella. In fact, studies have shown that if a mother washes just one breast right after birth, the baby will prefer to nurse at the other, unwashed breast. (This is why some doctors advise new mothers not to shower until at least after the first feeding—to allow their natural aroma to help establish breastfeeding.) 

Perchance, to Dream?

Through ultrasound tests, researchers have seen evidence that babies in utero experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is associated with dreaming, at around 32 to 36 weeks. No one knows whether they're actually dreaming, since their brain waves can't yet be monitored, but doctors believe that it's certainly possible.

In fact, the sleep patterns of fetuses in this stage of development closely resemble those of newborns: They spend a lot of their time in REM sleep, but also in a quiet, deep sleep where there is no eye movement. Researchers have also observed babies in utero in a state of quiet alertness, which suggests they may be concentrating on something—listening to mom talking, perhaps.

Ready for the Big World

Babies eagerly investigate whatever they can get their hands on—and the fun starts before birth. As early as 20 weeks, fetuses react to what's around them. (Ultrasounds have shown that some try to grasp the amniocentesis needle when it's inserted into the uterus.) But it isn't until the third trimester that they really begin to grow curious about their intrauterine world. Though there isn't a whole lot in there to play with, fetuses entertain themselves by sucking on their hands and fingers (especially their thumb, which they discover at about 18 weeks). They also 'walk' around by pushing on the uterine walls with their feet, and yank, pull, and swing their umbilical cord—they even practice breathing.

All this playing around helps them develop important reflexes they'll need once they're born. Sucking will not only be crucial to taking in food but will also be a source of comfort. And feeling things with their mouth is an important way for babies to explore things. Filling their lungs and moving the diaphragm up and down—albeit with fluid instead of oxygen—is also good practice; by the time the baby makes his entrance into the world, he will have learned to breathe on his own.

Doctors believe that pushing off the uterine wall probably helps the fetus develop the ability to reach his mother's breast soon after birth. When a newborn baby is placed on his mother's bare abdomen, his primal instinct starts to kick in: Within the first hour of life, he'll push his way up toward his mother's breast, guided mostly by scent, according to research by Marshall Klaus, M.D., author of Your Amazing Newborn.

So compelling is the research on this early dance between mother and baby that Dr. Klaus and other neonatal researchers are now urging hospitals to change their procedure for handling newborns: Instead of weighing and bathing the infant right after delivery, they suggest placing him between the mother's breasts immediately after an initial examination and waiting at least an hour after birth to perform any necessary procedures.

All this goes to show that a baby isn't just passively waiting to be born while in the womb. He's already building important skills and developing a strong bond with one of the most important people in his life—his mother.

Laura Flynn McCarthy is a New Hampshire-based freelance writer who specializes in health and parenting issues. She is also the mother of two boys.

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