You know it’s important to play with baby—the right kind of play isn’t just fun, it’s also interesting, educational and a bonding experience. But figuring out how to interact with a scrunched-up newborn and how to happily occupy an unruly 14-month-old are their own unique challenges. That’s why we came up with this handy guide, covering activities for babies and toddlers from birth to age two.
Just one thing to keep in mind before you read: Babies develop at different rates so if your baby doesn’t seem ready for a certain activity, try it again in a month or two. Your baby also could downright hate an activity we suggest. That’s normal too! Feel free to improvise until you find something that makes you both happy.
0 months: Swing time
Don’t break out the baby swing just yet. (And definitely stay away from playground swings for now!) Until baby gets better head control, try folding a bedsheet in half (twin or queen-size sheets work best) and then lay it on the ground and place baby in the middle. With an adult positioned at either end, pick up the ends of the bedsheet until baby is off the ground. Make sure baby is safely and securely resting inside and no parts of the sheet are covering her nose or mouth. “Swing the baby slowly to watch for her reaction,” says Kimberly Lyons, MEd, CMT, founder and owner of Tum e Time, a baby play center in San Francisco. “If your baby enjoys it, try singing a lullaby as he or she relaxes in the hammock.”
Good to know: This activity can help your baby build strong bones and muscles—and even better it just may soothe a fussy baby to sleep! Just be careful to swing gently and safely and don’t lift the sheet too high off the floor.
1 month: Wear your baby
Babies love skin-to-skin contact, but you likely have too much to do to just sit and cuddle all day. A baby carrier, such as a ring sling or a strap-on front carrier, lets baby snuggle in close while freeing up your hands. Wearing baby also provides him or her with a wealth of stimulation. “Wearing babies allows him or her to see what you see and begin to make sense of the world as you wear him or her while you work, clean and run errands,” says Bethany Gonzalez Moreno, founder of B. EcoChic, a company that helps parents find eco-friendly baby products.
Good to know: Young babies should be worn facing inward, not outward, to avoid overstimulation and so his or her head has proper support. Make sure baby has plenty of room to breathe while you’re carrying him or her.
2 months: Make a mobile
“Very young babies are attracted to contrasting colors,” says Gaby Merediz, an artist, writer and mother of two young boys. “So draw some simple shapes in black marker on white paper and hang them above baby’s crib or on a spot on the wall near baby’s line of sight.”
Good to know: At birth, baby’s vision is limited, so he or she will have a hard time focusing on anything more than a few inches away from his or her face. Providing interesting objects in his or her line of sight encourages him or her to focus his or her eyes and strengthen his or her vision. Of course, you are his or her very favorite “interesting object,” so make sure baby gets plenty of face time with you too!
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