If you’re like most parents, you’ve probably found yourself gazing at your beautiful baby a time or two while wondering, “Now what?” You know that you’re supposed to play with them, but exactly how do we go about doing that? Babies and toddlers are growing and developing by leaps and bounds every day, but you might feel at a loss for how to play with someone so little.
Why is play important from a young age?
Babies and toddlers need a lot of exposure to playtime from a very young age. Even though your newborn can only see about a foot in front of her in the beginning, you can start playtime activities as soon as her first day on Earth.
Play is the way your baby learns about the world around her. Play strengthens not only her muscles for fine and gross motor activities, but it also develops communication, problem-solving, social, emotional self-regulation, and cognitive skills that will serve her later in life. Basically, playtime influences every aspect of her life from her first day on Earth forward.
If you’re not sure how to play with your baby or toddler in a meaningful way, here are seven ideas for how to step up your game.
1. Be Conscientious
The first thing that you need to do is be conscientious about where, how, and with what you play. The Three S’s (Safety, Stimulation, and Sensory Experiences) are good ways to be thoughtful about how we play.
- Safety: Safety should be your priority when you play with your child. Make sure the space is open, secure and away from any choking hazards.
- Stimulation: Your baby needs stimulation in order to grow, so toys with bright colors and patterns are perfect choices for helping brain development. Interesting toys with different textures, magnets, or pretend play capabilities are also fantastic ways to maintain attention and strengthen their brain. Whether it be a soft and fuzzy stuffed animal, a colorful roller rattle, or a toy for making music and rhythm, a good selection of toys can elevate your baby’s play.
Something to note is overstimulation. Things can go from great, to fussy in the blink of an eye. If you notice your baby getting extra wiggly, cranky, or waving their fists in a jerky motion, you might stop the fun and resume a little later.
- Sensory Experiences: Sensory experiences help your baby make connections between their brain and their body. If they’re old enough, activities like playing with Play-Dough, shaving cream on the table, or using a water/sand table are fun and safe ways for them to explore their senses. If those activities are too advanced for your little one, you can still play with a few modifications.
2. Practice Communicating
When you play with your baby, you’re actually exercising their communication skills in an exciting way. Play enforces both verbal and non-verbal communication. When you play, you can ask them to copy you or identify feelings using exaggerated facial expressions. You can play pretend, make funny sounds, or talk about how things taste when you’re eating snacks. When you view communication as play, you allow your baby to hear and practice words and sounds that will help them language development later on.
3. Be a Follower (and Be Patient!)
It’s tempting to try and steer your shared play sessions the way you want them, and sometimes that’s okay. But sometimes it’s just as important to sit back and let your child determine the direction the play goes. When they’re interacting with you, ask her to tell you about what they are doing, and why. Go along with what they say to do even if it’s nonsensical, and give her time to figure out her next step. When you sit back and let her take the reins, you may be surprised by how vivid and fantastic her imagination is.
4. Make Your Own Kind of Music
Few things are more fun for kids than musical toys. Not only do they get to use their fine and gross motor skills, but they can be unrestrained in how they express themselves. Sitting down with your baby and some high-quality, kid-friendly musical instruments (check out our favorites here) is fun and educational. Music helps develop rhythm, tone, and musicality, and doing it together is a great way to bond and build memories.
5. Drop Everything and Read!
Some of the best playtimes happen when you are reading together, so when your child wants to pause on physical play and read with you, do everything you can to encourage it. Reading with your child from an early age develops her language skills and is a huge indicator for literacy success later in life. To make things fun, use different voices and add funny dialogue to the text.
These are some great helpful hints for you and your little person. Always remember there is no perfect way to parent, and that your baby will thrive no matter what.