Babies are born with a unique desire to play. It’s how they learn about the world, problem-solve, and work through their emotions, not to mention build muscles and resilience. To quote Fred Rogers: “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
As parents, we wonder how to fully engage and play with our babies. But playing with your baby will not only boost their creativity and brain development, it will help you form a deeper bond with your child and nudge you to take a break from your busy day to simply enjoy these sweet, fleeting moments with your little one.
Play Starts on Day 1
Play doesn’t have to wait until your child can throw a ball or challenge you to a game of hide-and-seek. It begins on the day your baby is born—and it begins with you.
- You are the most interesting thing in the entire world to your newborn. Your touch, your voice, your face remind your baby that they are cared for. Let your newborn gaze at your face while you soothingly talk or sing to them.
- Singing is a great way to play with your newborn, infant, and toddler! And newborns aren’t particular! Don’t know any nursery rhythms? No problem! Newborns just want to hear your voice—even if it is singing a made up song or your favorite artist’s latest hit.
- Gentle caress is another overlooked form of play with your newborn. Gently caressing your newborn’s foot with your finger or letting your newborn use the death grip hold over your index finger is a great way to boost those feel-good, love hormones.
The Exciting World of Infant-hood
As your newborn grows into infant-hood, their world is blossoming around them. Everything is new and exciting to an infant, so don’t be fooled into thinking you need to buy them the latest and greatest toys. They just need you!
- Encourage your baby’s sweet smile and squeals of delight by gently clapping your baby’s hands together or moving their legs in a bicycle pedal move, or just making some funny faces or sounds.
- Practice supervised tummy time often to help strengthen baby’s neck and shoulder muscles. If your baby fusses during tummy time, give her some interesting toys to reach for, such as a soft book or rattle.
- Practice tracking where you move an interesting object side to side while your baby watches it. This helps build their visual skills.
- Read books together. Babies love simple, colorful board books. Grab a stack of board books from the library and snuggle in for 20 minutes of reading. Don’t worry if your child grabs or turns the pages at their own pace – it’s how they explore their world. Try to focus on pages or images that hold your baby’s interest.
Play can be fun for you, too!
It’s normal for this to feel silly or even boring sometimes It’s okay to find what feels fun to you. If dancing in the kitchen feels more fun to you than reading books, it’s ok to do more of that! Find what comes naturally to you and build on that. (And of course, try out the suggestions above—you might find you like it more than you’d expect!)
This article appeared in the March 2020 edition of Oregon Family Magazine.