Playing games isn’t all for fun—it’s also the best way for your baby to learn and develop social, cognitive and motor skills. Read on for playtime tips for babies of all ages as well as ways to expand your baby’s learning potential.
Sight. At three months, your baby’s color perception is expanding from black and white to bold colors then eventually to pale, low-contrast designs. His visual range is also gradually expanding. As his vision improves, he will begin to notice more detail, even down to a speck of dirt on the carpet! Play mats and cradle gyms become more interesting as your baby learns to rely on his visual perception.
Sound. A baby’s first words are formed in imitation. Encourage mimicry by imitating the sounds your baby makes so that he will in turn imitate your sounds. Use repetition in the songs you sing to build your baby’s memory and recognition.
Touch/taste. Babies experience “touch” with their mouths as well as their hands. Textured rings and teething toys allow babies to explore with their hands and their tongues.
Fine motor maturation. Put your baby on his play mat face-up to reach for hanging toys above, or place him face-down to grab toys at ground level. He’s ready to manipulate objects of many different sizes, shapes and materials. This is a good time to introduce blocks, balls and toy “household items” such as phones with cords removed, plastic keys and large spoons. Play finger games like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Patty Cake”—your baby won’t join in for a while, but these games will build dexterity when he does respond.
Gross motor milestones. Help your baby gain balance by gently and repeatedly pulling him into a sitting or standing position. Be encouraging, and take a break if you feel yourself becoming frustrated; babies can recognize disappointment as well as approval. If you’re not having fun, chances are he’s not either!
Intellectual improvement. At six months, your baby is learning the science of object permanence: a toy hidden under a blanket isn’t gone—it’s just hiding! He will drop a ball over and over just to see where it falls before Mom picks it up and gives it back. Peek-a-boo becomes a playtime staple. You’ll be doing all the hiding in the beginning, but someday your baby will join in, hiding himself under his hands or a blanket and laughing at his own cleverness. And what about language development? Just keep talking!