We always want to do the best for our little ones, and that includes finding effective ways to help them learn. We’ve spoken in the past about learning through play, and play remains one of the major ways our littlest ones learn as it’s how they connect with the world around them. Knowing which games to play might feel a bit confusing, though. Luckily there is a huge range of activities you can do with your child to help them learn how to operate in the world. It’s good to remember that each activity can be left until whenever your child is ready – in those beginning weeks and months, all they really need is to be kept warm, safe, secure and loved. Activities in which you interact with them can come a bit later, once they’ve developed the different capabilities they need. And best of all, especially when they’re little, play doesn’t mean having to go and stock up on toys – they play by interacting with the people and objects around them in their everyday lives, including you!
Play in those early days is not quite what we tend to think of when we usually hear the word. Instead, very simple interactive activities are ideal for a baby – and as luck would have it, these games are the ones we seem to instinctively do when we see such a young face peering up at us. Big smiles, funny faces, poking out your tongue; believe it or not, these simple actions go a long way towards a baby’s development, helping them learn the faces and the voices of those closest to them. It also helps them learn how to move their own faces as they try to mimic what you do!
Peekaboo is a classic for a reason. It’s fun for kids, and listening to their giggling is delightful for those playing with them. Plus, it’s super easy – no complicated equipment required! Cover up your face with your hands or a blanket, then pop out again dramatically. Peekaboo is an entertaining game, but it also teaches them a lot. It can help develop object permanence and encourage their social development, lets them work on their visual tracking, and gives them a chance to build those all-important gross motor skills. On top of all of that, it’s a way to bond with your baby. All that eye contact, smiling and interaction lets bubs know just how much you love them.
Tickling & Raspberries
Another classic, tickling babies and blowing raspberries on their tummies is a great way to interact while they’re still small. As with many of the games for younger babies, it gives them a chance to mimic what you’re doing in terms of facial expressions, hand movements, and sounds. Babies learn by copying what those around them do, reproducing sounds and actions until they get them right.
Tummy time is another of those activities usually encouraged in babies, not least of all because it helps to strengthen their little muscles. But it’s also a fantastic time to introduce new things for them to look at – think brightly coloured toys or cardboard baby books, or even just by lying down in front of or next to them so they can see your face up close.
As our Books and Babies blog mentioned, reading isn’t just for our older children. Reading time can be done right from the beginning – the story itself is less important than baby being able to hear your voice and see your face. They might even fall asleep as you’re going – the rhythmic sounds of a loved one reading can be incredibly relaxing! As they get older, you can start showing them pictures so they can associate images with words, or even point out those words themselves. Learning to read is not the aim here; rather, learning the shapes of sounds and words themselves is what will help them work towards learning to speak. It’s also a form of ‘play’ that can help calm little minds after a busy day.
The Pot Cupboard
As they get older, there is more your baby is capable of. The pot cupboard is an endless source of fascination for older babies – there are so many shiny, interesting shapes that are also capable of making a tremendous amount of noise! Your own tolerance for the noise of pots and lids banging together may vary, but it’s still a fun, inexpensive source of entertainment, while allowing your little one to learn some more of those gross motor skills and cause & effect. If noise is a problem, maybe use some non-breakable mixing bowls and spoons made from something other than metal – the sound is dampened, but the effects are still there! If playing in the cupboards is an activity you and your child will enjoy, just remember to keep anything dangerous either locked away, or up out of reach. This includes anything sharp, too heavy, or potentially toxic items such as cleaning products.
There are, of course, more games for babies than can be listed here. What sorts of games do you play? Do you ever wonder about the educational side of things, or is the joy of exploration with your child the important part?