Did you know that even before your baby is born, they are starting to have fun and play? That’s right! When you feel those baby kicks and rolls, that’s your unborn baby playing one of the only ways that they can. I’m sure you’ve noticed that if you poke at your belly, your baby will tend to poke right back or to respond in some way. When I was pregnant with my daughter, she would roll all the way around when I would poke at her, and we could play that game together for a long time. It was one of the things that made me SO excited for her to be out in the world with me!
Babies are born already excited to explore the world around them, and one of the biggest ways that they can do that is through play. Play is a way for babies to learn and for them to create bonds with their caregivers. It starts so early! I am a former preschool teacher and current stay at home mom to a one year old. My bachelor’s degree is in early childhood education, and I have years of experience working with very young children. Let’s dive into some of the ways that babies can learn from play in the first year of life!
In the first three months, baby is a newborn. You might be thinking, how could I possibly play with a newborn? I’m here to tell you it’s so much more simple than you might think. In those newborn days, play is as simple as a parent talking to and looking at their baby. Babies thrive on reciprocal interactions, where they are engaged with a caregiver and the caregiver engages back. This kind of interaction is called serve and return, and you might not even be aware that you’re playing with your baby this way!
For example, as you change your baby’s diaper, she looks at you and coos. You smile back and say, “Is that so? Okay, I’m going to put a new diaper on you. Here you go!” Your baby smiles at you and coos some more. This is baby’s way of playing at this age! Luckily it’s so intuitive for adults to engage in this kind of interaction with a baby.
You can also engage your newborn in play by singing, dancing, or letting them look in mirrors or at high contrast flash cards. My daughter has always loved this tummy time mirror. She’s 13 months now and still brings it out to play with!
Now out of the newborn stage, your baby is growing and learning so much! Babies from 3-6 months of age are starting to engage more with the world around them, and they can show much more interest in toys. Babies at this stage are very interested in exploring new objects with their mouths! Make sure everything you offer them is safe for them to put in their mouths.
Tummy time is a great way to help your baby grow stronger and play! You can put your baby down on a playmat or blanket, surrounded by toys. Toys are great motivators to lift up their heads and hold it up to look at cool things. Babies at this age will also start to reach for objects and try to grasp things they are interested in. This can make tummy time much more fun! I know that for my daughter, it definitely did.
Some of her favorite toys from 3-6 months were rattles, like this one. Rattles are a great way to help your baby understand that their actions can cause something to happen! When they shake the rattle, they can make a sound! It’s an exciting thing for a baby to discover.
6-9 month old babies are starting to get mobile, so it’s time to babyproof your house and get ready for some fun! There are so many ways to play with a baby who is able to sit up and move themselves around more freely. Always remember that all babies develop in their own time, and rushing your baby to the next milestone won’t help them get there any faster. There is one single thing that will help your 6-9 month old become more mobile: plenty of floor time to freely explore a safe area! Even babies who aren’t quite crawling yet can roll themselves where they’d like to go, and practice pushing themselves up.
Free time on the floor helps babies build crucial muscles that they need in order to start crawling, and later, cruising. When your baby is on the floor, you can play by placing toys that will interest them out of their reach. This encourages babies to figure out how to move themselves to reach it! If your baby is able to pull themselves up already, you can place interesting toys on low tables or the edge of the couch to encourage this skill! 6-9 months is such a fun age, filled with so much active play and exploration. This is when my daughter really got interested in her toys (along with anything in our house within her reach!).
The last quarter of a baby’s first year is a huge deal! From 9-12 months, you can expect your baby to develop their mobility skills even more. They will also be starting to figure out how their toys really work, such as placing their blocks into a bucket or stacking cups on top of one another. You can encourage your baby to play more meaningfully with their toys through modeling. Show your baby that their blocks can stack on each other. Help them connect their Mega Bloks, or put chunky puzzle pieces into their designated spaces. At this age, babies love to copy what they see you doing! Big siblings or cousins can also be motivators for babies too.
The first year of a baby’s life is such a whirlwind! While we as parents know how truly exhausting it can be, there’s no denying that watching your baby grow and learn is also really fun and exciting. Playing with your baby is not only fun, but also crucial to their development! I hope that this article gave a few insights into how playtime helps babies learn. Happy playing!