There are many benefits to playing with your baby or child. Have a look below at just some of the benefits of play:
- Teaches children about the world around them
- Learn new skills
- Language development
- Strengthens bond between parent and child
- You’ll have fun together
- Turn-taking and sharing
- Conflict resolution
- Problem solving
It’s important that we provide opportunities for our little ones to play right from birth, but this doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. For example, a simple game of peek-a-boo with your baby helps them to understand that things exist even when they can’t see them. This understanding can support your little one through separation anxiety later on. For some fun and easy ideas to try at home with your baby, check out the activities below:
Playing peek-a-boo with your baby is a lovely way to start interacting with your baby, whilst being great fun. You can start this game from when your baby is beginning to focus on your face when you are talking to them. This is often the first step to communication with your baby.
- Lay your baby on a mat facing you
- Talk to them and get their attention
- Cover your face with your hands
- Whip your hands apart and say ‘peek-a-boo!’
- Remember to smile, laugh and use lots of happy words
- Watch how your baby reacts - did they smile or laugh?
- Now try it again!
If you would like to enhance this game as your baby gets older, try using a teddy or toy out of sight and then bring it into their view quickly.
Babies learn from using their senses, taste, smell, sight, touch and hearing which helps their developing brain to absorb information about the world around them. Offering your baby sensory toys or making a treasure basket is a great way to help them to develop all of these senses.
A treasure basket is a great way to offer your baby things to explore. Have a look around your house for things that you could use - all that you will need is a small box or basket that your baby can reach into and a collection of safe household and natural items that they can rustle, shake, smell and chew.
A few examples to get you started are:
- Wooden spoons
- Metal linked measuring spoons
- Big shells
- Large pine cones
- A strip of Velcro
- Squares of different types of material (silky, corduroy or furry)
- Little drum (a tin with a lid is a great drum)
- Dried pasta or rice in a plastic bottle (make sure the cap it tightly fitted)
- Dried lemon or orange slices
- Sponge or loofah
Remember to use your common sense when building up a treasure basket and ensure that you don’t use anything that’s toxic, dangerous (e.g. sharp) or may be a choking hazard. Never leave your baby alone whilst they’re exploring their basket.
There are lots of benefits to singing songs and rhymes to your baby right from the start - one is helping their cognitive development. Repeating songs and rhymes helps to teach them how language works as well as helping to build their memory. Songs also help to develop your little one’s auditory skills, such as being able to tell the difference between sounds, and develop an ear for music or words. Singing songs and rhymes helps babies to sound out words and practice pitch and volume. Here are a couple of nursery rhymes that you may like to start with:
Twinkle Twinkle little star
Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are,
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky,
Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are.
Round and round the garden
Round and round the garden, like a Teddy Bear (draw a circle with your finger on baby’s palm)
One step, two step (walk your finger up baby’s arm)
Tickle you under there! (tickle baby under the chin)
Playing with things that make a sound is another great way to interact with your baby. Using things that you have at home (or in their treasure basket) makes it easy to have some fun with sounds.
Using a rattle, or pasta or rice in a plastic bottle, let your baby hold and shake it themselves. If they’re not able to grab hold of things yet, shake it yourself in front of them. Are they looking? Remember to use your voice to get their attention as well. Try shaking it by one ear then the other, above their head or behind them. Is your baby trying to find the sound? Using other items that make different sounds can extend the game. Here are a few ideas on how to play with sounds:
- Place something that rattles inside a box. Shake and listen - does it make a different sound? Let baby explore the box and shake it on their own.
- When baby is bigger and can lay on the floor, roll the rattle on the ground. Are they trying to reach out for it? Can they crawl to it?
- Try using other objects that make different sounds. Which ones does your baby like best?
- Use a rattle or drum whilst singing songs - try and make it louder and then softer. Which sound does your baby prefer?
Babies really do like to look at themselves in the mirror - mirror play is a great way to spend some time with your baby talking and laughing together. It can help develop your baby’s visual senses and if you’re using a mirror during tummy time it helps to develop their muscles and physical abilities. Playing with a mirror can also help to develop their language skills even before they’re using words, as you can point out parts of their face and have little back and forth conversations.
Eventually your baby will learn that they’re seeing their own face in the mirror and will start to recognise their own reflection. As babies all develop differently, here is a rough guide to when they might be able to recognise different things:
Birth to 8 months: looks at their own reflection.
6 to 18 months: smiles at their reflection or starts to make sounds when looking at an image in the mirror.
When your baby is able to lay on their tummy and has enough strength to hold their head up, it’s a great time to start to play with them on the floor. Have some toys or treasure basket items near to them to encourage them to reach out for things. If you move something, does your baby react? Are they trying to move or roll to get to their toys?
Remember that tummy time play is something that takes a little practice, so when you first try it only do it for a short amount of time so that baby doesn’t get frustrated or over tired.
Playing with water is a great way to develop your baby’s fine and gross motor skills as well as help to enhance their creativity and imagination. Water play can also have a relaxing and therapeutic effect on your little one.
You can start with some basic water play whilst bathing your baby. Use colanders, funnels or cups to pour the water on and around your baby. Trickling the water up and down their arms or body will help to increase their awareness of their own body and help their visual coordination. Let them feel the water and splash in it and try using toys that they can hold in the water.
As your baby develops and is able to sit unaided you can move from just bath time water play to giving them the opportunity to play with water during other times in the day. Sit them on a plastic mat and let them explore water on a tray or in a shallow bowl. Put toys or balls in the water that float and give baby the opportunity to splash and pour the water.
Make sure that you never leave your baby unattended when playing with water.