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Month-by-Month Play Ideas for Developing Babies

One important way to nurture your baby is through play. I can’t overemphasize the value of play and enjoying play without any agenda. Playing is simply what babies do!

While you can play with no agenda, many of us need a good starting point. Here are some month-by-month ideas to help you and your baby enjoy playtime together from Dr. Laurie Hollman‘s book Playing With Baby.

Month One:

Spend time skin to skin. Stroke and massage your infant. Look into your baby’s eyes and smile.

Talk to your baby by cooing, babbling, singing, and speaking to him; he loves the sound of your voice.

Show him plenty of visual stimuli—as long as you don’t overload him. Find things that are black and white or red and yellow. Babies love looking at small lights, so you might take a pen flashlight and move it slowly for your infant to follow.

Month Two:

Give your baby unconditional love while you play. Use calm responses to even irritation and fussing.

Take every opportunity to talk, sing, and coo to your baby as you go about your daily routine.

Show your baby stuffed animals, mobiles, and dolls. Because young infants usually don’t grasp objects directly in front of them, offer them from the side.

Help baby look in a mirror or play with a safe baby mirror.

Place your baby by another baby and watch their interaction.

Explore with a trip to the pet store or enjoy a stroller walk. Babies like to watch everything that moves by them.

Notice how your baby reacts to a cat purring, a dog barking, or crinkling paper.

Let your baby lie on different textures, such as the carpet, blanket, or towel, and see how she responds.

Month Three:

Respond to your baby’s babbling, laughing, and swatting with smiles and coos. (This shows baby you are reliable and predictable.)

Try hand and foot rattles; she’ll enjoy making sounds for herself. This fosters motor development.

Make different faces for her to imitate. Imitate faces she makes at you as well.

When conversing, give your baby time to respond.

Play music with a strong beat. While it’s playing, clap your baby’s hands or tap her feet against the floor in rhythm with the music.

Gather books with pictures to show him one at a time.

Show your baby your soft sweater, cottony-soft favorite jeans, and brilliantly colored skirt. Run soft or silky fabrics over her face, hands, and feet.

Blow bubbles on the porch or in the bathtub.

Month Four:

Play peekaboo. This game teaches object permanence: when an object isn’t seen, it still exists.

Use toys that stimulate the senses, like a mirror or mobile (sight), a clown with a chime (sound), a cradle gym or activity board (touch), or a teething ring (taste).

Experiment with sounds. Hit a rubber spoon on a drum.

Hold up picture books, turn each page, and name objects.

Month Five:

Visit other babies when going to a playground.

Bathe your baby for play or attend baby swim classes.

Roll and squish balls and toys that make little noises.

Place baby on her tummy with a roly-poly toy within her reach.

Put colorful objects in front of your baby and move them back and forth, as she can now track moving objects.

As your baby passes one object from hand to hand, interfere and take a turn. Interacting is playing.

Put your baby in a bouncy chair or a swing. Don’t forget to visit her at the same time.

Rolling over can be a fun game for your baby to play once she figures out how.

Narrate what you’re doing with her as you bathe, diaper, and sing to her in the bathtub.

Whisper and sing her name to her and see if she turns to you.

Month Six:

Take a favorite toy and cover it with a blanket. Ask your baby, “Where did it go?” and see if she tries to pull the blanket away.

If your baby enjoys a baby swing, place him in it, saying “hello” as he swings toward you and “good-bye” as he moves away.

When you pick up your baby’s toys, call them by name. She will learn to recognize the names.

Name body parts for your baby, pointing to each and saying its name. Repeat this with nose, mouth, eyes, ears, hands, and fingers.

Enjoy hand play by showing your baby how to play pat-a-cake.

When your baby makes a sound or facial expression, follow her lead and parrot her.

Point out colorful objects on the page of a book. If a red ball is shown, point to the ball and repeat what it is.

Put toys around your baby while he is doing tummy time so he can reach, grasp, and mouth toys of different colors and textures.

Offer baby-safe kitchen gadgets. Set out measuring spoons, whisks, small pots or pans, and wooden spoons to play with.

Month Seven:

While your seven-month-old is on her tummy, stand up and make noises or shake a favorite toy to get her to look up and lift her chest off the floor.

Continue to play peekaboo. You can also hide a toy under a bucket, pillow, or blanket and encourage her to find it.

Engage your baby in conversation by asking him a question and responding to his “answer.”

Food itself is a game at this age. Let your baby grab food with her fists and shove it toward her mouth.

Lay out objects you know he’ll recognize. Ask, “Where’s the brush? The spoon? The doggy?” Praise him when he gets it right, but smile and enjoy him even if he doesn’t!

Month Eight:

Play with dropping (and retrieving), banging, and throwing things.

Make funny faces, put your hands in the air, or shake your head, and then watch your baby attempt to do the same.

Let her open and close drawers (being careful they don’t fall out or pinch fingers).

Create obstacle courses for your baby if he is crawling, scooting, or walking.

Hide behind a door and make your baby push it open to find and see you.

Toss a ball up in the air and let it hit the floor while you make a silly sound.

Play chasing games. You can crawl behind her and then in front of her.

Stack up blocks and then show your baby how to knock them down.

Present puzzles and interlocking toys. Put them together and take them apart again.

Read to your child. It’s one of the best things you can do for him. It will help him with language development as he hears brand new words and sounds.

Month Nine:

Use a large cardboard box to learn the concepts of inside and outside.

At a park or beach, show your baby a brightly colored baby-safe object, like a rubber ball. Then bury the toy under some sand. Ask, “Where did it go?”

Place objects around your baby that you know she’ll recognize. Then ask, “Where’s the spoon, the bunny . . . ?”

Drop, throw, or bang just about anything to see what happens. This explores cause and effect.

Month Ten:

Teach parts of a doll: hair, eyes, ears, and toes. Name the parts aloud.

Give her a bucket full of toys and let her dump it out and fill it up again. You can also give her stacking toys, like rings and cups.

Sing songs that encourage finger games and have a lot of repetition, like the Wheels on the Bus.

Push a small car or truck along the floor. After a while, he’ll learn to let go so that the car rolls by itself.

Talk to him on a real or play phone. He’ll learn the fun of conversation.

Go outside. Put leaves, twigs, or toys in a pail.

Put a small toy inside a paper bag or box. As he struggles to get it, he’ll increase his understanding of inside and outside.

Build a tower of blocks. Watch them as they fall.

Clap with sticks and spoons and other utensils.

Month Eleven:

Bounce on a mattress like a trampoline.

Lie on the floor and encourage baby to crawl back and forth over your back.

Play with sand or water.

Stand your baby on his knees or feet and rock slowly to music together.

Try making funny faces and see if your baby imitates them.

Clap hands—both your own and your babies. She will love playing new clapping games.

Ask your baby to get simple objects for you to use by naming them.

Month Twelve:

Cruise along the furniture with your baby, singing happily to make her smile.

Take turns doing things like stacking blocks and knocking them down.

Continue talking and singing to her to your heart’s delight.

Encourage fine motor development with finger games and songs like Itsy Bitsy Spider and Six Little Ducks.

Enjoy imitative play. Use phones, kitchen utensils, tools, dolls, cars, and animals.

Your baby may enjoy purposeful play, like using a plastic hammer to pound pegs into a hole.

Point and name different objects and see if she tries to reach for or name them.

Get easy-to-hold board books and cloth books and continue reading.

Make different animal noises as you point to the animals in picture books and with toy animal figures.

Put circular objects like large beads or cereal on a string and see if your baby catches on using her pincer grasp.

Do every-day routines, like brushing your hair, and see if he wants to try and brush your hair too—or even his own.

Playing with Baby distills the experts’ findings for new parents, giving them a guide to the first year of a baby’s life and the growth of his or her individual mind. Through specific month-by-month play options and the research behind them, psychoanalyst Laurie Hollman helps us understand how to create secure attachments between baby and mother even before they can communicate with language. While aiding natural development is a big plus, the real payoff for parents comes from the baby’s reaction: when we play on the baby’s level, we engage and connect more deeply—and we have more fun!

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