1When we first brought our baby home, we were stricken with terror. Would the
baby suddenly stop breathing? What if she choked? Did the other people on
the road always drive this dangerously?
As the days wore on, the fear ebbed. Okay, we could keep the baby alive. But
what were we supposed to do with her? She stared into space, showing no
particular interest in our efforts to sing or dangle toys in front of her
face. "Look, baby, look at the monkey!" Nope. Just vacant stares, and then
some crying to liven things up.
Now that we both know a lot more about babies — or at least our baby — we
know not to expect a lot of interaction from a newborn. But that doesn't
mean playing with your brand-new baby isn't important.
From day one, your baby's interested in what's going on around him. Deep in
his head, there's a lot going on. Connections are being made and information
is being sorted and categorized.
Playing games helps fit the puzzle pieces together — as your baby grows,
play is crucial for his social, emotional, physical, and cognitive
development. Play also brings you and your baby closer and makes your time
together that much more enjoyable. Remember: The more your baby laughs, the
less he cries!
VideoBaby on the move: Sitting How your baby gets ready to achieve his first
big developmental milestone.
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A few notes for the novice baby-entertainer: Repetition is important. Many
games won't work the first time you play them, but if you keep up your
efforts your kid will eventually start cracking up the minute you reach for
a particular toy.
Your baby's attention span will vary a lot, depending on his age, his
temperament, and his mood. Sometimes he'll enjoy a game for as long as 20
minutes, but more often you'll need to modify the game every five minutes or
so. You'll know your baby's loving your antics when he's turning toward you
, smiling, or laughing. But if he squirms away from you, looks away, or
cries, it's time to change the activity.
Some babies are easily overstimulated. If yours starts to cry during
playtime, don't despair. Switch to calmer activities like cuddling, looking
at picture books, singing soft songs, or nursing.
Keep in mind that not every baby will catch on to every game that's
supposedly perfect for his age range. Don't allow this to freak you out, as
in: Oh no, Noah's not reaching out for objects yet — there's something
wrong with him! There's probably nothing at all wrong. Your baby may be a
little slower than the mythical "average" baby in this way, but he's
probably ahead in another way. Of course, if you suspect your child has a
developmental delay, talk to his doctor.
Birth to 3 months
To the outside observer, a newborn basically seems like a pooping ball of
protoplasm. Your baby will mostly just lie there, except when he's crying.
So how can you connect with him and have fun?
Your best chance of doing this is to engage your baby's senses: touch, sight
(remember, your baby is still very nearsighted), smell, and hearing. (Let's
leave taste out for now.) By the end of his first three months, your baby
may reach out and try to grab things and will be fascinated by sounds,
smells, and patterns.
Note: It may take your newborn several seconds to respond to you or he may
not respond much at all. Be patient — you may need to keep trying or wait a
while for him to enter an alert, responsive state.
Dance, Dance Revolution
In the afternoons when my baby got grumpy, nothing worked as well as dancing
with her. I'd put on some music — she preferred soulful tunes from Stevie
Wonder and James Brown — and either put her in the sling or hold her in my
At first she preferred soft swaying. Later on she liked me to swing her in
the air or bump her up and down rather rudely. (Just be sure to offer neck
support and don't shake your baby.) When your arms get tired, put your baby
down and keep up the dance.
Silly exaggerated movements like jazz hands or shaking your butt are
particularly funny to babies. Close the drapes so the neighbors won't see.
Let's Look at Stuff
Let's Play: Weekly Baby Activities
Find two perfect, development-boosting activities for every week of your
baby's first year.
Most of your early playtime will be spent showing your baby stuff. Any
object in the house that won't poison, electrocute, or otherwise hurt him is
fair game. Babies love egg beaters, spoons, wire whisks, spatulas, books
and magazines with pictures, bottles of shampoo or conditioner (don't leave
your baby alone with these!), record albums, colorful fabrics or clothes,
fruits and vegetables, and so on.
Keep a little stash of objects beside you and sit with your baby. When the
moment's right, whip something out like a magician. "Look, Kyle, Daddy's
bicycle bell." Hold the object still about a foot from his face and stare at
it yourself. Hey, now that you look at it, that bicycle bell is kind of
interesting. Congratulations! You're thinking like a baby!
Oh, and don't expect babies to really "get" books at this age. You'll know
they're enjoying them by their way of getting still and watchful when you
bring a favorite book out.
Babies don't tend to sit through a whole story, though, and when they're a
few months older they'll grab the books from you and close them. This is all
developmental stuff. Babies love looking at books and cuddling close to you
, but they usually don't care about the plot.
Journey Into Mom's Closet
You haven't spent a lifetime accumulating a closetful of bright, slinky,
tactile clothing for nothing. Dig into your closet and show your baby your
cashmere sweater, your cottony-soft favorite jeans, your brilliant plaid
skirt. Run soft or silky fabrics over his face, hands, and feet. Lay fuzzy
stuff down on the floor and put your baby on top of it.
In a few months, your baby will want to run his hands over anything beaded,
embroidered, or otherwise embellished. But for now, he may just be content
to gaze in wonder.
Hey! What's Over My Head?
You'll be amazed at how much fun you can have with the simplest stuff around
your house. Here are three ideas to start you off:
Tie or tape some ribbons, fabric, or other interesting streamers onto a
wooden spoon and dangle them gently over and in front of your baby's face.
Take a floaty scarf and fling it into the air, letting it settle on your
Tie a toy to an elastic string (like the kind used for cat toys) and bounce
it up and down in front of your baby's face, saying "Boing! Boing!" every
time it descends.
Remember, never leave your baby alone with strings or ribbons that could
encircle his neck or that he could get into his mouth.
The Diva Within
You may have a terrible voice — but your kid doesn't know it! Now's the
time to sing at volume 10, so set free that opera voice inside you.
Your baby may like absolutely anything you sing, but there are some classics
you should know. "Itsy Bitsy Spider" was the only song that made my baby
stop crying when she was on a jag. And most kids like any song with
movements — "The Wheels on the Bus," "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," "Head,
Shoulders, Knees, and Toes," and "Patty-Cake," to name a few. (If you don't
remember the words to a favorite song, try an Internet search. )
You may feel silly at first, but as your child gets into it, so will you.
Try adding your baby's name to the song: "Old Mac Ethan had a farm," "Kate
is my sunshine, my only sunshine," and so on. Try songs with silly sounds or
animal noises in them, like "Witch Doctor" or "How Much Is That Doggie in
Try singing a song in a low growly voice and then in a high squeaky voice,
to see which gets the most reaction. Try singing the song breathily into
your baby's ear, or use a hand puppet (or a napkin or sock willing to play
the part of a hand puppet). And get used to singing, because this could
begin to eat up a significant portion of your day.
24 to 6 months
At this age, your baby will become a lot more physical, learning how to roll
over and even sit up. She can now hold, handle, and mouth objects, and she'
ll spend a good part of her busy days doing so (meaning extra vigilance is
needed on your part).
Games can get more physical now. Your baby might enjoy knee rides or tickle
games. She's also more responsive to you, making noises and meeting your
Smell the Spice Rack
You're in the kitchen, trying to throw some kind of dinner together when
your baby starts wailing. Take her over to the spice rack and introduce her
to the intoxicating scent of cinnamon. Rub some on your hand and put it up
to your baby's nose. (Don't let it get in her eyes or mouth.)
If she likes it, try others: Vanilla, peppermint, cumin, cloves, nutmeg, and
many other herbs and spices have intriguing fragrances that your baby might
love. Other household goods are fragrant, too: Dad's shaving lotion, Mom's
hand cream. Sniff out everything yummy — just be careful not to let your
baby eat it!
Bubbles, Bubbles Everywhere
There's something magical about bubbles, and at this point your baby can see
far enough away to focus on them. Blow bubbles when she's getting fussy
waiting for the bus and watch the tears dry up. Blow bubbles in the park to
attract older kids who'll caper nearby and entertain your baby in the
process. Blow bubbles in the bathtub or out on the porch when it's late
afternoon and your baby is cranky. Bubbles are unbelievably cheap, easily
transportable, and endlessly fascinating for babies.
I'm Gonna Get You!
Your baby is old enough to have a sense of anticipation now. And no baby can
resist your coming at her mock-menacingly with a threat of hugs, kisses, or
tickles. Here's what you could say: "Hey, Andrea! I see you over there
sitting up! Well, that just makes you closer to my lips and I'm going to
come over there and kiss you! I'm going to steal a kiss, baby! I'm coming! I
'm coming! I...gotcha!" Then cover your baby in smooches.
In our house we threaten to eat the baby and punctuate our advances with lip
chomps on her fat little feet. A delicacy! When your baby's older you can
modify this game to include a chase around the house — this works
wonderfully as a way to get your child out the door when you're in a rush.
This Little Piggy
Touch your baby's toes in turn, starting with the big toe. Say, "This little
piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy had
roast beef, this little piggy had none. And this little piggy went wee-wee-
wee all the way home."
As you say that last part, run your fingers up your baby's belly. This game
is useful for putting on socks and shoes or distracting your baby during
diaper changes. You can also play this game in the bathtub with a squirt
bottle targeting your baby's toes.
By now, your doctor's probably nagging you to get your baby on her tummy,
and your baby may be protesting vociferously.
Get down on the floor with your baby. Look her in the eye as you lie on your
own belly. Lay your baby down on a towel and use it to gently roll her from
side to side. Try saying, "Oops-a-daisy, Oops-a-daisy" as you roll her.
Fly, Baby, Fly!
Now that your baby can hold her head up, it's time to hoist her into the air
. You can play that she's a rocket ship, flying her over you and making
realistic rocket noises (dads are great at this). You can play that your
baby is in an elevator, which advances up floor by floor before sinking
quickly to the bottom (my husband likes to bump noses with our baby and say
"Ding!" at this point). Or pretend that your baby's doing a helicopter
37 to 9 months
Your baby's becoming an expert at sitting and may soon be crawling as well.
Encourage these physical feats by celebrating each new milestone: "Joshua,
you sat up! Amazing baby!" Include a big hand for the little fella.
The ability to transfer objects from hand to hand and the fabled pincer
grasp are part of your baby's increasing hand control (which means you'll be
forced to carry a container of O-shaped cereal with you at all times for
the next year).
Your baby also begins to understand that when an object disappears, it hasn'
t fallen off the edge of the earth. This discovery makes games like peek-a-
boo a favorite.
Touch It, Hold It, Bang It
If your baby has one object, he'll bang it on the table. If he has two
objects, he'll bang them together, hold them up to the light, squint at them
, bang them separately on the table, hit the table with both at the same
time, see if the object sounds different when hit using the left hand rather
than the right hand, and on and on.
Help him out by handing over objects that make interesting sounds: hollow
containers, metal spoons, bells.
Pay attention to tactile sensations as well: Your baby will be fascinated by
a greeting card laced with glitter or the slickness of Mom's enameled
jewelry box. A baby with strands of cooked spaghetti to play with wouldn't
notice if a bomb went off.
I Can Control the World
Babies love cause and effect at this age, as in: I do this, the light comes
on. I do that, the light goes off. Showing your baby how to work light
switches, remote controls, cell phones, and more will thrill him — but can
make life more difficult for you when he insists on being held up to work
the lights yet again.
Instead, you may want to offer a toy phone or remote to satisfy his craving
for control, or a jack-in-the-box to provide a thrillingly surprising result
. Or, let him manage his environment by filling a low-lying cabinet or
drawer with safe objects and letting your baby rummage around. Make sure
there are no sharp edges or other dangers (dressers with drawers pulled out
can turn over on a child) and then let your baby go to town.
If your baby's crawling, scooting, or walking, he may enjoy the challenge of
having to move over things. (This is great for developing his motor skills,
too.) Pillows, phone books, tired parents, and laundry make good obstacles.
Sleeping cats do not make good obstacles.
So Many Variations on Peek-a-boo
The classic: Hold up a towel between your face and your baby's and ask, "
Where's Sam? There's Sam!" over and over again. You can vary this game in a
million ways. Hide behind a door and make your baby push it open to see you.
Hide behind a chair and pop out first from above then from the sides. Go
behind a corner with another person and alternate who jumps out and yells "
Keep a selection of hats behind the couch and pop up wearing a different one
each time. A surefire laugh-getter is to put a hat on your head, hiding
your eyes, and let your baby take it off, saying "Oh!" in surprise each time
he does it. (This will also guarantee that you'll never wear a hat in peace
Babies are fascinated by balls and how they move. You'll get a big laugh by
juggling or tossing balls up in the air and letting them hit the floor while
you make a silly sound effect: "Whoops!" Roll a soft ball toward your baby
and watch him grab and squeeze it. Eventually, with encouragement, he'll
roll the ball back toward you. And someday he'll be able to kick and toss
the ball or drop it into a big bowl or bucket. For now, bounce and roll.
410 to 12 months
Developmentally, your infant has suddenly morphed into an almost-toddler.
Games that allow her to practice gross (not as in "eww, gross!") motor
skills such as standing, pulling up, and climbing are important for her now.
Your baby will also like to work on her fine motor skills by fiddling with
the tag on your shirt or the pages of a book — and your breasts if she's
Rearrange and Re-rearrange
Your baby is figuring out the connections between objects in the world. She'
ll love to stack and arrange objects, as well as fill and empty them.
Give your baby a box that's easy to open (like a shoe box) and show her how
to put things inside and take them out. At our house, this game quickly
evolves into "Take everything out of Mommy's purse and fling it wildly
around the living room," which is why I no longer carry change or pens.
Another way to play this game: Get a bunch of cups (maybe even stackable
measuring cups — ooh, two toys in one!) and show your baby how to pour
water, sand, or cornmeal from one to the other, or into a larger container.
The Endless Cruise
Once your baby is up on her feet, you can encourage cruising by placing a
favorite toy at the far end of the couch or over on the coffee table. Try
imitating your baby by putting one of your toys, such as your cell phone, a
distance away and cruising on your knees toward it. Your baby may find this
amusing and come over to join you.
Encourage your baby to push an object around the room. Push toys and large
empty boxes work well. Avoid folding chairs, which can fold up unexpectedly.
Top That, Kid
Babies this age love to imitate. Encourage this behavior by making a
ridiculous noise and then nodding at your baby to go ahead and try a noise.
She may imitate you or make her own noise, which you can imitate. Or you can
make up a new noise of your own.
Eventually you'll have created something that sounds like a techno song. Get
up and dance to it! You can also play this game with faces or movements —
our kid likes to make the Nixon "V" sign and wave her hands around angrily.
When we do it back, her expression is of someone witnessing magic.
The Bath Is Fun
No longer is your baby content to sit in the tub and be washed. Older babies
want to stand up, splash, grab your hair, pat the shower curtain, and so on
. (Note: Never leave a baby unattended in the bath, not even for a second.)
Encourage the craziness by bringing in lots of toys. Plenty of stuff around
the house can be endlessly filled, drained, poured from or into, and floated
. Pile up some plastic cups, yogurt containers, funnels, and squeeze bottles
, and bring them into the bath along with any of your baby's plastic toys.
Poke holes in the top of a plastic bottle with a flat cap to make a homemade
watering can. Let your baby feel the sensation of the water dripping onto
her and show her how to cut off the flow by pressing with her hands. Use
your homemade toy to give her rubber ducky a shower.
At the end of the bath, drain the toys in a plastic colander or a net bag
suction-cupped to the side of the tub. Now you're clean. Wasn't that fun?
Joyce Lollar is mom to preschooler Violet. She wrote the Tending Violet
journal on BabyCenter and blogs on Momformation.