Babies: How They Play
Play in the first year of life is all about exploration. Babies use their five senses to learn about the interesting new world around them: Does an object feel hard or soft? Sticky or rough? What does it do if I drop it? Or put it in my mouth? Most play consists of "tasting" or mouthing an object and shaking, banging, or dropping it.
When your baby develops new motor skills, play becomes more coordinated and complex. For example:
- At about 4 months old, babies begin to reach for and grasp objects, like a rattle.
- By 6 or 7 months, they can transfer that rattle between hands.
- At around 9 months, a newly developed pincer grasp makes it easier for babies to pick up smaller objects, like blocks and other small age-appropriate toys.
During this time, play is usually a solitary activity, but playing side-by-side with other babies and imitating activities is common by year's end.
For now, you are your baby's favorite playmate. Have you ever danced a puppet in front of your baby's face, only to have him grab it and pull it toward his mouth? Or has he ever squealed in anticipation and delight when you creep toward him, saying, "I'm gonna get you!"
These interactions help your baby learn about language, social relations, and cause-and-effect. Once babies begin to understand how things in the environment relate to each other and how they taste, smell, feel, and sound, babies are ready for the next stage of development: figuring out how they work.
Smart Toys for Babies
- Nursery mobile. Objects dancing above a baby's head while lying in a crib stimulate vision and develop attention span.
- Mirror. Initially, your baby will be fascinated with the changing face and expressions looking back from the mirror. Over time, your baby will realize that the drooling, smiling baby staring back is actually a reflection. Once this happens, babies become aware of themselves, which leads to more self-discovery as they learn about body parts and where they are.
- Ring stack. This classic toy features a cone that fits different sized colored rings. At first, babies enjoy holding and mouthing the rings. Later, they practice fine motor skills by fitting the rings onto the cone. Toddlers also learn about colors and numbers when you count the multicolored rings as you stack them.
- Push-pull toys. These help with balance and large-muscle development as your little one goes from a couch surfer to a walker. The more babies push and pull, the more they work the muscles necessary to turn them into runners and climbers. Later, in the toddler years, kids can use them to help control their increasing speed.