Play is an excellent way for your baby to build and hone motor skills, to figure out the world, and to give meaning to the language surrounding her. Here are some simple reasons behind why you should play with your child and let him explore. I also have included some ideas for play that are baby-approved.
Play promotes brain development. Physical movement activates the brain. This fact is why we should encourage play for all ages (even for ourselves…although we tend to call it “exercising”). Babies learn through movement and repetition. With movement, blood moves to the brain, stimulating it. With repeated actions, babies are making connections, that is growing synapses in their brains while they are figuring how things work. Movement also disposes of toxins and releases serotonin, endorphins, etc. So, a well-played baby is not only a learning baby, but a happy baby. And the happier your baby is, the better positioned he is to learn because his attention is focused on the task at hand.
Play gives meaning to the world the baby is in. When you play with your baby, talk about what you or the baby is doing. Talking is a way to help build up the vocabulary your child knows, giving what you say meaning. Playing while you talk is just a fun way to help reinforce those words. Find out more about the benefits of talking with your baby here.
A note on the “gummy” baby: Babies are notorious for putting things in their little mouths. This action is completely normal because they discover their world through their senses…the mouth being a top one! So, let your baby explore with his mouth, but be careful what items are freely given. Sometimes little pieces might come off and be a choking hazard.
Play enforces spatial relationships. A baby learns about how her body relates to her world by being involved in physical activities. A baby will know how far to go, or what it feels like to bump into someone or something else when she has gone too far. The words “under,” “over,” “through,” etc. will make sense because she has experienced those words first hand during play.
Play helps baby practice motor skills. Tummy time, anyone? Doctors tell us to do tummy time to build those tummy muscles. But, there are a whole lot more muscles in a baby. Babies, when given the freedom, will explore movements. So, let your baby try to roam around, or, if he is fully in the crawling/walking motion, watch and help him use his motor skills.
There are different motor skills. We briefly touched on spatial. There is also fine, gross, and locomotor. Fine motor skills are necessary to help your baby (later on) try to write, tie shoelaces, and do art activties. Gross motor skills help with eventually controlling large movements. Locomotor skills are those used to move from place to place.
In unstructured play, your baby has the freedom to explore and mess around with things. But, you should also try to do some type of structured play. I am not going to tell you what the recommended time frames are for both because…it might restrict you or make you think of using a timer. Remember, always make play fun.
What does structured play with babies look like? Structured play has a particular goal. There are rules and expectations, and adults take the main lead. For instance, you could just let your baby explore a sensory bin. That would be unstructured. But, if you sat with the baby and pointed out a red ball and asked the baby to find a red ball, it would be structured. Or you can use a muffin tin and help your child sort the items. Again, these are babies and they are learning about how things work. There is no better way than playing with a caring, attentive adult. There are some simple structured, baby-approved play ideas down below.
Play helps baby learn how to interact. Playing with others not only helps your baby with his physical growth, but it will also help your baby learn how to interact with others emotionally. While the concept of sharing is very foreign to a baby, playing with others will help to build the idea of “the other” in a baby’s cognitive and emotional self. That sounds very psychological, ha-ha, but, the gist is your baby will grow in his ability to read what his actions do to others. Talk with him about these reactions.
Baby Play Ideas
Here are some play ideas that do not require much to purchase. I also indicate which ages work best these play ideas. Many of these ides work well structurally, that is, where you lead the play. But, have fun! Babies are still learning how things react and how to imitate us adults. Babies learn through repetition and experiment with objects. Also, please use common sense with your baby. I may recommend a certain play for a baby at age 2 months, but that may not work for your 2 month old. Be watchful and present while you play. Read my disclaimer here.
Age: 2 months-up
My son hated water for the longest time. I don’t know if it was the temperature I always had the bath water at, or what, but he was never happy during his bath. Then, I came across something to hopefully ease him into liking baths. It was to just let him play in shallow water.
I poured water in a shallow container (cookie sheets work great) and held him as his feet dangled in the water. Boy howdy, he had fun! I also did this with a stopped-up sink. You could lay your baby on a towel and put the water container next to your baby so she can splash the water in it with you there watching.
Age: All ages
Buy a simple mirror and sit with your baby, both looking into the mirror. Make faces and see if your baby will mimic you. Name each face you make so the baby will know the emotions behind each facial reaction: angry, sad, happy, etc. You can of course do this with your phone’s camera, but a mirror is larger.
Art projects and Sensory Bins
Age: 2 months-up
Yogurt Paint. Simple and edible. Mix yogurt with food coloring to create desired hue. Then give your little one a paint brush (or just let him use his fingers), the colored yogurt and a taped piece of paper and let him or her go bonkers…at your table secured down or in a high chair. If you prefer less mess, then put the yogurt paint in a quart sized baggie. Seal it. Place it within a gallon sized baggie and seal/tape that one shut. Then let your child squish the paint around. To make this play structured, simply draw a circle, a line or a squiggle, and ask your child to try to make it.
If you don’t mind a mess and your little one can walk, then you can clear your fridge and tape the paper there. You can also give your child more than one color of yogurt “paint.” Use an ice cube tray or a muffin tin to keep the colors from mixing.
Baby’s Sensory Bin. There are so many ideas of what to fill a sensory bin with out on Pinterest…I even see some that are holiday or thematic. But, the gist is to find a container (even a muffin tin works) and fill it up with teething toys, uncooked large shell noodles, toilet paper rolls, paper to crinkle, pompoms or balls. The possibilities are endless. Post some of your favorite fillers down below!
Don’t forgot to add scoops, funnels, cups, and other small containers to let your baby practice scopping and dumping. You can even take turns filling a container and dumping it.
Water Bead Bags. Water beads are so much fun! You can of course fill a bin with water beads, but putting them in a bag and sealing it with tape will help keep your little one from accidentally eating them. Again, it’s fun to squish these bags.
Sensory Spaghetti. Not sure how appetizing colored spaghetti would be for us, but maybe a baby would be intrigued by purple cooked noodles! This link will help you make them. A perfect way to help teach your baby colors.
Contact Paper Shapes. Cut out a shape or animal from a piece of contact paper. Unstick it and let you baby explore the stickiness. Cut up some paper and have available some other objects so your baby can stick them to the paper.
Age: All ages
Peek-a-boo is a simple game you play with your baby to develop object permanence. There are a ton of songs and rhymes you can use to accompany this game. Check out peek-a-boo songs and rhymes here.
Use a blanket, a washcloth, a scarf, or a parachute (if you have one but you don’t need to buy one–a large blanket is good enough) to do a few simple blanket games with your baby. Here are a few ideas:
- Let your baby grasp a scarf and shake it to the music. The grasping helps to mature the baby’s hand muscles and shaking it is just fun. Songs to shake and dance to can include “Shortenin’ Bread” and “Shoo, Fly.”
- Lay your baby on a large blanket or a parachute and drag the baby around on it. Of course, using your good judgment and do so slowly.
- Hold onto one side of a blanket and have your baby hold onto the other. Then rock back and forth while singing “Row, row, row your boats.”
- Both of you grasp a scarf or a blanket. Lift it up when you sing/say the word “up” and put it down when you sing/say “down” during “The Noble Duke of York” or “The Elevator Song” (view “The Elevator Song” here).
Age: When child can pull up
Go to Sam’s, or anywhere that basically gives away boxes, and grab a few boxes. Go home, give them to your baby, and simply watch him explore them. Or, you could show the baby how to stack them. Put the baby in a box and push or pull him around like it is a car. Give him toys to fill the boxes up with and let him dump and refill the boxes. Babies love boxes. Boxes are cheap. You need boxes.
Age: 2 months-up
Plastic Bottle of Treasure. Fill up a water bottle with rice, beans, beads, seeds, glitter, sequins, foam letters or shapes (really, anything bright). Tape the top shut. Show your little one how to shake it. Point out special items. The baby will enjoy the make-shift rattle and also the visual pleasure of watching what is making the sound!
Upcycled Wet Wipe Container. Wash and dry a wet wipe container you are no longer using. Then, tie scraps of fabric or ribbon together to make a long rope. You should make the end of the rope thickly knotted so it won’t escape the wet wipe container. Then, let your little one pull the rope out from the top of the container.
Age: When child can sit up
Upcycled Sour Cream Container. This is the ultimate baby approved toy. I have seen babies fight over this toy! And it’s so easy and cheap to reproduce! Just take a used, but cleaned container (the deeper the better). Cut a hole on top. Get little objects the baby likes and insert them into the hole. I have used pipe cleaners, pompoms of different sizes, and clothespins.
Books, Songs, and Rhymes
Age: All ages
I encourage you to buy board books specifically for babies to chew up. There are so many interactive books that scream PLAY WITH ME. And, if they chew your own books, then there is no crime done. You want them to associate books with happy feelings and being yelled at for chewing on a book will not promote those fuzzy feelings. So, buy used ones (or new ones) and let them go to town in playing the features they possess, or in chewing them, or in stacking them.
Speaking of board books, make sure to check out Reading with your Baby. It has tips on reading with your baby and book recommendations for your baby!
What activities do you with your baby?