Play is so essential for cognitive, physical, and psychological development. As your infant explores the world around them, they become more engaged and interested in play. What play looks like differs with their developmental stage. For example, a 3-month-old baby plays differently than a 6, 9, and 12 months old.
Playing with an infant is based on interactions and exchanges. There are great toys out there that encourage this back-and-forth play, or you can do this with your infant on your own.
We’ve put together a list of ways you can play with an infant based on their age and cognitive development. One of the best tools/toys are baby early learning books or children's storybooks. Some are safe for infants as they are baby cloth books.
Newborn to 3 months
Your little one has short periods of wakefulness and limited vision, communication, and motor control. This makes play both very easy and super important! At this stage, you can focus on physical and cognitive play. That is why storybooks for kids are so essential for your baby list.
Mobiles are fantastic for visual development. There are mobile toys that can adapt as your baby grows or some that go above their crib. These improve optical tracking and can be enjoyed with you as you point and look at the different items. Baby gyms and mats often have mobile features as well as mirrors and noisemakers.
Imitate your baby’s sounds and expressions to help develop communication skills.
Cycle your baby’s legs as they lay on their back.
Put on music and dance with your newborn by gently swaying to the music.
Three months to 6 months
You will notice your baby start to communicate with babbling, coos, and new sounds at this stage. You will also find they stop and listen when you talk and engage with them. Their facial expressions are changing, and they are more curious. They explore new items with hands and mouth at this age, so you will find them pulling toys, hands, and even your hair to their lips!
Use noisemakers that have different sounds like rattles, bells, and buttons. So many toys and blankets make different sounds when they are touched. A baby xylophone is a great toy that allows your baby to make different sounds as they hit the notes.
Give your soft baby balls that roll and show them how to do it. Sit on the floor, roll the ball towards them, and then show them how they can move the ball to you. Use expressive sounds and exaggerated facial expressions.
Sing songs and clap along. Hold baby’s hands and have them clap too.
Read rhyming books and nursery rhymes from a baby cloth book or children's storybooks.
Six months to 9 months
Between 6 and 9 months, your baby starts to form sounds like “mama” “baba.” They will likely respond to their name and can feed themselves with their hands. When you hold an object and name it, you will have their attention.
Stack blocks and knock them over, push them along the floor and bang them together.
For books with animals, make different animal sounds or use a toy that does this.
Incorporate toys into bath time. Use baby bath toys that spray water or take empty containers and fill them with water, let them float, and pour out the water.
Nine months to 12 months
At this stage, your infant can associate meaning with the sounds they can make. They may point to a bottle and say “baba” or point to you and say “mama.” They can understand simple instructions like “give me” and enjoy more movement in their play. They will likely be crawling and can walk when supported.
Place toys out of reach, so they need to crawl, reach, or pull themselves up to get it.
Spend time outdoors and encourage exploration; point out flowers, rocks, and the feeling of grass.
When reading, incorporate different voices and sound effects and have your baby turn the pages. Plush baby early learning books with 3D elements add sensory stimulation and allow your baby to feel different textures.
Play hide and seek with toys by covering them with blankets or hiding them behind your back.
Teach repetitive sounds and nursery rhymes or play in the background
Infant play is essential for development. Although your interactions and engagement are fundamental, baby toys can help provide further stimulation and help baby play and learn alongside you. Infant toys don’t need to have a lot of electronics or technology; a collection of colorful blocks, an empty container, and some of your best animal impressions can go a long way in infant play! Some of the best kids' educational books are on this site, as well as baby early learning books. Get all the baby books online at essentialbabylist.com.