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Let’s face it: the first few weeks (months even!) with a tiny newborn are a bit of a non-stop, crazy blur.
Before our little boy arrived, I invested in several books full of fun ideas for playing with baby. I was full of enthusiasm and had these perfect visions of my baby-to-be and I singing songs together, and building towers with blocks.
Then our little bundle was born.
Suddenly I was so tied up in a whirlwind of rocking, burping, feeding and diaper-changing that ‘age-appropriate-play’ was the last thing on my mind.
Like most things with new-motherhood, I pretty much found my own way by following baby’s cues and was led by what he was ready to do.
Babies are obviously all different and will enjoy different play at different stages (as hard as it is to ignore THAT mother at baby group whose little genius has already mastered his shape sorter at 4 months!? We all know the one!)
That said, a rough guide to what your little one might enjoy and when is always helpful. So here’s mine! Enjoy!
Those first few weeks.
Or indeed any song! Even if your little one may not understand what you’re singing about, Psychology Today points out that singing is a brilliant way to strengthen the parent-baby bond! And don’t worry if you’re not Beyonce or Mariah: baby really can’t tell whether you’re tone deaf or not.
Chatter, Chatter, Chatter
You make not get much of a response this early on, but talking to your baby is the first step in them understanding and developing their own language use. Prof Anne Fernald, a developmental psychologist at Stanford University, says that chatting with newborns helps them grasp the rules and rhythms of language at an early age.
And if you wonder why your voice automatically defaults to a strange, high-pitched coo whenever you talk to your little one, it’s another of nature’s wonders! This tone is the one babies prefer so coo away at your little one and watch them still and gaze at the sound of your voice!
1 – 2 months.
Baby Play Mats
This is the perfect age to introduce one of these. The bright colours provide excellent stimulation for your baby, who may now be able to take a swipe at one of his rainbow-coloured friends! Try to keep things fresh by swapping the hanging toys on the mat every now and then.
Don’t worry, we’re not talking lycra-clad, high tempo music workouts here! But a few gentle movements can be really great for strengthening baby’s muscles and are a lot of fun too!
A favourite one of ours was when our little boy was lying on his back with his feet in the air. We would then gently rotate his legs alternately as if he were riding a bicycle. Guaranteed smiles every time!
2 – 3 months.
Tummy time is so important for babies to strengthen the muscles in their arms, back, core and arms which will help them move towards rolling over and eventually sitting up!
Not all little ones are a fan of being laid on their tummies, however. One thing which helped for my little boy was to make a game of it! I would lie him flat on his tummy on his changing mat in our lounge. The slippy underside of the mat then meant I could push him around carpet on his own little “surfboard” saying good morning to all his teddy friends as we passed them!
It’s really important to remember that babies should be laid to sleep on their back to help prevent SIDS. So keep tummy time for the day play!
At this age, your baby’s eyesight is improving rapidly. That means that they can really enjoy the contrast between light and dark. When the night draws in, close the curtains and put on a flashlight show!
3 – 4 months.
Fly Like An Airplane!
This is one of my favorite memories of playing with my little boy, and the best part is this one is a great ab workout for mom too!
Begin by sitting on the floor with your knees bent, and rest baby’s tummy against your shins. Then hold baby’s hands and carefully rock onto your back, keeping your knees bent so that your little one is ‘flying’ on your legs!
If I’m not painting the picture for you, this might help!
Burst Some Bubbles!
As you baby’s hand-eye coordination develops, they can reach out and swat things with increasing accuracy.
Blow bubbles around your baby while they lie back on the grass so they can try to reach for them or even just enjoy watching them float by and POP!
This one is a great bath time activity too! Find even more great bathtime ideas for different ages here.
4 – 5 months.
What’s Happening Next?
This is where your little one may really start to develop a sense of anticipation and knowing what’s about to come next. Songs are a great way to build on this.
Try “The Grand Old Duke of York” where you lift baby up and down in time with the words.
Or “Humpty Dumpty” where to ‘drop’ (or maybe gently lower!!) baby to the floor at the point when Humpty has his great fall.
You’ll see your little one get excited as the “good” bits of the song come near!
Words For Life has a great list of songs for you to choose from.
As baby is becoming more interested in socializing and will recognize various family members now, a great idea is to make an over-sized photo album for them to flick through! (They made need a little help turning the pages!)
Choose a ready-made folder with slip in, plastic pages which will protect your photos from baby dribble and milk spillages, and make sure to print the photos of family members larger than usual.
5 – 6 months.
Pots and Pans For Days!
Perhaps it’s because both his dad and grandad are both drummers, but this was (still is!) one of our little boy’s favorite games to play.
And it’s so simple!
Just grab a few pots and pans (nothing breakable, of course) from the cupboard as well as a spoon drumstick and bash away!
Your little one will love listening to all the noises they are making and its also great for using up a bit of extra energy!
This is fun for lots of ages, but 6 months was when our baby really started being able to enjoy the textures of different messy play games.
His particular favorite was sitting in a plastic washtub amongst freshly cooked (and cooled!) spaghetti! Slimy, squishy fun!
Of course, you must make sure that any ingredients you use in messy play are safe in case baby decides to have a taste of them! You also have to be careful with things like sand which could irritate their eyes and may be best left for a few months yet!
There are great recipes for safe sensory foam, play dough and paint online. Mother And Baby have a few to get you started!
6 – 7 months.
Pass the Ball
One of my favorite ever videos I have of my son and I is us playing this game.
He’s sitting up, grinning at me with adoring little eyes as we’re rolling (or in his case, swatting) a rattling ball across the carpet to each other! *Cue contented mother sigh!*
It’s not only great for physical development and hand-eye coordination but also great for verbal too: “Your turn! Well done! Now it’s mommy’s turn!”
Basket of Treasure
One man’s treasure can be another man’s trash, right?
Well, in this case, our “treasure” consisted of a plastic spoon, a rubber duck, a large plastic cotton reel, an empty packet of baby wipes, two odd socks and an old TV remote control (batteries removed!).
7 – 8 months.
Actually, this one is important from far earlier. When I read articles advising to read to your child pretty much from day one, I was a little dubious.
Countless times I remember reading a picture book to our little boy for him to be far more interested in the washing machine or the cars going past outside. However, there are a whole host of reasons why reading from the outset really does benefit your child.
By around 7 months though, I really started to notice how baby “understood” books more. He would grab a book himself, turn the pages (usually several at a time) and automatically reach for textured elements or to lift the flaps to see what was hidden beneath!
He definitely remembered the more familiar books and had his favourites.
Lift-the-flap books are also great now that baby’s sense of object permanence has really developed.
If your baby has started to crawl (and remember, not all babies do, preferring to go straight to walking) then a simple obstacle course is a great idea.
8 – 9 months.
The same baby sensory scarves that we’d been using to play Peek-A-Boo for months came in handy again here.
Take a large box (perhaps a diaper box) and make holes in just wide enough to pull a silk scarf through. Stuff the scarves into the box with just a little bit of each one poking out of each hole.
Baby will love tugging at the scarves until they are all over the floor!
It may sometimes be the stuff of nightmares, but if you can pick a quiet time and find a soft play with an area geared up for babies and toddlers rather than older children, this is the age where soft play can really come into its own.
Loads of fun can be had crawling, climbing, bouncing, all with a nice soft landing!
I actually found nice, sunny days were a good time to go as it was always pretty empty!
If you haven’t checked out The Unmumsy Mum’s blog, it’s hilarious, and she has a great guide to surviving soft play!
9 – 10 months.
Tunnel of Fun!
Now that our little one had really mastered crawling, this was a great activity!
We used an expandable baby tunnel, but a long cardboard box works just as well. Attach things to the inside roof of your tunnel for baby to discover as they crawl through.
Brightly colored socks are a good one! We also laid a shiny, foil rescue blanket on the floor of the tunnel and stuck a (baby-safe) mirror on the inside wall. Peepholes can also provide great fun, and there’s nothing quite as funny as seeing baby’s nose peeking out and listening to their giggles and shrieks of joy!
10 – 11 months.
This is when I noticed out little boy become quite particular about his toys and where they should go! He would spend ages taking toys from his toy box, carting them across the room and placing them very particularly on the sofa, or the coffee table or in mommy’s shoe?!
Shape sorters like this one are also great for this age
At this age, toys which involved a little more precision were great for our son.
He’s always loved knocking down towers of cups, but now he liked to build them!
11 – 12 months.
At this age, my little boy could just about get the hang of making marks with chalk. That said, they were more “stabbing motions” against the paper rather than smooth motor control.
So maybe don’t expect a masterpiece too soon!
If you have any smooth paving slabs outside, these are also a great canvas to work on.
Now that baby fully understand the idea that things still exist, even if he can’t see them, this is a great one!
We would show our baby brightly coloured plastic toys (bath toys worked well) before burying them in his sandpit. He then absolutely loved scooping away the sand to rediscover them.
Your little one may even be able to have a go with some baby-safe gardening tools, although ours was a more “hands-on” kind of baby!
So that’s it! My guide to baby play at every age.
There are obviously loads of other ideas out there, and I particularly recommend Baby’s First Skills by Miriam Stoppard.
Just remember that every baby learns at their own pace, and may well do things in a different order to what we experienced with our son.
The most important thing is to have fun playing with your little one. Enjoy!