Your baby will grow and develop at a rapid rate in their first few years of life. Their ‘job’ is to master hundreds of skills – from fine and gross motor skills to language and social development. As your baby reaches those all-important milestones, it’s a marker that they’ve mastered a cluster of skills. But how do we make sure our babies reach their milestones?
Playing with age-appropriate toys and games is the best way to stimulate your baby and encourage their development. Here’s a list of top activities to stimulate your baby from birth to 12 months.
Play ideas for newborns
At this age, you are all your baby really needs. You are their favourite toy! That said, there are some choice toys and activities that are ideal for stimulation from birth to three months old.
- The best way for your baby to learn about their body is with baby massage. Spend a few minutes after bath time giving your baby a soothing massage while smiling and making eye contact (and kissing toes!).
- Tummy time is vital for your baby to develop strong back muscles for all the big milestones like rolling, sitting, crawling, and walking. Give your baby at least 5 minutes of tummy time between each sleep, on a play mat that is tactile and novel to hold your baby’s attention while strengthening those back muscles.
- Give your baby safe objects that have a handle and are small enough to be grasped by their little hands. This will stimulate their ability to control their hands and arms and encourage voluntary grasp. You’ll start to notice their grip improving towards the end of this stage.
Play ideas for 3 to 6 months old
At this age, your baby will start to use their hands intentionally. Give them plenty of opportunities to reach, grab and release interesting (and safe) items to stimulate eye-hand coordination.
It’s also a time when they start building up their mobility. Here are some other play ideas to stimulate your baby’s motor development:
- Play ‘pat-a-cake’ with your baby on your lap. It’s not only fun, but it will help your baby develop the balance to sit and coordination to clap.
- Play airplanes whizzing your baby through the air. Go slowly at first and stay within their comfort levels. You’ll get lots of smiles and it stimulates your baby’s sense of movement and builds muscle tone.
- Tummy time is still hugely important but alternate between putting your baby on their back on a kick and play mat. They’ll love kicking their feet to hear the different sounds and sensations. Kicking while lying on their back helps build strong tummy muscles for rolling, sitting, and crawling.
Play ideas for 6 to 9 months old
Between 6 and 9 months, all that hard work your baby’s been doing to strengthen their little muscles will start to result in milestones like sitting and crawling. Add that to using their hands and you’ve got many options to keep your baby stimulated.
- Movement is still really important so go on a swing with your baby, fly like airplanes or get on the floor with them . Place two or three interesting objects just out of their reach to help them balance and reach without falling over.
- Baby’s love books and even at this young age you can encourage verbal skills. Explore books with bright clear pictures, made of card or plastic, because babies love to chew on books. Share animal sounds with them and don’t be scared to get a little animated or silly (it’s worth the giggles!).
- At about 8 months, your baby will start to enjoy hiding games. This is because they develop object permanence. Playing peek-a-boo is always fun, or partially or fully hiding objects for them to find.
Play ideas for 9 to 12 months old
This stage is when your baby will start to explore their independence as they become more mobile. Crawling is a very important milestone so don’t be tempted to try and skip it. Make an obstacle course with cushions and tables and baskets to crawl in, out and under. You can also use push or moving toys to encourage crawling.
Other babies at this age might be standing, cruising, or starting to walk. Their curiosity will explode with their new mobility. Here are some ways to stimulate motor skills and language development.
- Activity centres that allow your baby to stand while playing with buttons and musical instruments is a great way to help them stand and practice their fine motor skills.
- Unpacking is great fun. Let your baby unpack the Tupperware cupboard and then teach them about packing it back.
- This is a fun age for outings. Keep outings short but talk about everything you see, point out objects or animals. Make animal sounds and touch different textures while naming them like grass, leaves or flowers.
Other inexpensive, simple ways to bring magic to play is blowing bubbles (a big hit with little ones), go to the park and enjoy the play equipment or visit the beach and explore all the sensory experiences of the waves, water, sand, and seashells.
The first year of your baby’s life is so filled with change and wonder. Enjoy playing with your baby and have peace of mind that they are being stimulated appropriately for their age. For an OT-approved play idea for every day of your baby’s first year, download the Parent Sense app – it’s the all-in-one baby app that takes the guesswork out of parenting.