You know it’s important to play with a 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 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.
The days with a baby can feel mundane one moment and magical the next. Hidden inside the everyday activities are the momentous milestones or the grumpy minutes.
We are filling every moment until bedtime can sometimes feel like scaling Mount Everest. For filling those times, or creating more of the magic and less of the mundane, we’ve put together our list of activities to do with babies at home.
Read on, and you’ll find sensory activities for babies and things to do with babies that perhaps you hadn’t thought of before.
My Baby Nursery has an extensive range of baby play mats for you to choose from.
Playing with newborns: why it’s important
Play is essential for your baby’s overall development, learning and wellbeing.
Through play, your newborn learns about the world around him and how he can interact with it. New play experiences also help parts of your newborn’s brain to connect and grow. And play that gets your newborn moving builds muscle strength as well as gross motor skills and fine motor skills.
Playing with your newborn helps her learn to talk and understand words. You might not always have time to stop everything and play, but you can still chat to your newborn about what’s going on – for example, while cooking dinner, shopping or folding clothes.
Playing together helps you, and you’re newborn get to know each other. That’s because play can tell you a lot about your newborn’s personality. Rough and silly or quiet and calm, you’ll soon know what your newborn likes.
Tummy time is one of the earliest ways your baby will learn to play. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that infants always sleep on their back to reduce the risk of SIDs. Still, they also recommend that babies get plenty of tummy time when they’re awake and alert enough to play. Tummy time helps develop your baby’s neck and upper-body muscles for better head control and also helps prevent the back of her head from becoming flat. The AAP says you can begin tummy time the first day your baby is home from the hospital. Place her on her tummy for three to five minutes at a time, up to three times a day or as often as she seems to enjoy it. Increase tummy time as your baby gets older and stronger, and place toys in front of her to encourage reaching, creeping, and eventually crawling.
Fun with Faces
Babies love to explore the world through touch. Allow your little one to feel the different parts of your face and his stuffed animals’ faces with his hands. Say the names of the parts of the face as he touches them, and direct your baby’s hand to touch his nose, mouth, ears, and more. Guide your baby’s hands to your face while you speak and make facial expressions so that he can get to know how we use our faces to communicate.
Finger puppet play
A baby needs lots of communication before language development can take off. A fun way to do this is pop on some finger puppets and make up a jaunty story of fun and wonder. Don’t worry, your baby doesn’t need you to be a thespian, and no one is watching!
Give baby a massage
Whilst there are plenty of baby massage groups around the country which you can go to, but there’s no need to confine baby massage to a class. Watch a few YouTube videos and then get down to some wonderful bonding time together.
Make and play with sensory bottles
Pop down to the high street in search of baby toys, and you’ll come home with a wallet considerably lighter. However, many favourite baby toys can be made at home, including these delightful sensory bottles which will keep your little one mesmerised.
Play with pompoms
One for careful supervision, but get some decent sized pompoms and a few toilet roll tubes then your baby will have lots of fun ‘posting’ and moving the pompoms from place to place.
Make salt dough hand and footprints
If you’re up for making memories, then a simple and cheap way is to make some salt dough and have fun making hand and footprints. Your little one will enjoy exploring the texture of some spare dough.
Blow bubbles, and let the baby pop them!
Bubbles and Babies go together like a perfect jigsaw! Blow bubbles past your baby’s face and watches as they become elated trying to pop them.
Explore textures with jelly
If you need to get on with things in the kitchen, and the baby is at post-weaning age, then pop them in a high chair with some different coloured jelly on the tray. Your baby will love squelching and squishing in this sensory activity for babies.
Make and play with edible finger paint
That first piece of artwork is one to be cherished, but babies are fans of putting everything and anything in their mouth. Get around this and let them have some mucky painting time by making edible finger paint.
Testing Out Textures
As your baby begins to scoot and crawl, try laying rugs, blankets, or items with different textures on the floor for him to explore as he travels across them. Nubby carpet remnants, sticky contact paper, and noisy bubble wrap are just a few ideas. Also, carry your baby around and help him feel the textures of different surfaces, such as a cool brick wall or around staircase banister.
Have all-important tummy time
Perhaps one of the most important things to do with babies, especially when they are particularly young, is to have plenty of tummy time. Could you make this an activity in itself? If your baby is reluctant, then pop them on your chest. Sing and chat, and soon your baby will be keen to push up and engage.
Play with rattles
It may have been done for hundreds of years before but that’s with good reason. Babies love shaking things, the noisier, the better! Make your own if you like.
There comes a stage when playing peek-a-boo is guaranteed to bring out the beaming gummy grins and giggles. Babies don’t have the same concept that you’re still there (even though you’re hidden) as older children, so are surprised and delighted time and again by this simple game.
Sing nursery rhymes
Again, you don’t need to be X-Factor worthy, and your baby delights in your voice. Uncover some old favourites such as Wind the Bobbin Up, or The Wheels on the Bus, and get going with the actions. Your baby will love you even if you can’t sing in tune!
We have a huge range of baby nursery play mats for you to select from.
Kick a balloon!
This is perhaps one of our favourite activities to do with babies that they love but isn’t an old classic. Loosely tie helium balloons around their ankle with the balloon a couple of feet above. They will kick and jiggle and take huge joy from being in control of their source of entertainment.
Let them explore a ‘treasure’ basket
Take a walk around your home and round up a bunch of baby-friendly household objects. Pop them all together in a basket and let your baby have a whale of a time exploring different textures and items which aren’t just plastic toys. Balled up socks, whisks and pine cones are all firm favourites. Don’t forget to supervise!
Do painting with trucks and cars
Babies are experts at getting mucky. They love it; they revel in it. Pop to a charity shop and buy some cheap plastic cars. Then use baby-safe paint and a huge sheet of paper and let them create some patterns with the wheels. Possibly one of our activities for babies to be followed by bath time!
Dance in the kitchen
Your baby loves to be close to you, and dancing will release the endorphins you need to stave off the sluggishness of pulling a milky-all-nighter. Pop on your favourite tunes, and get bouncing around the kitchen. You’ll both soon feel better.
Play with sound toys
Sometimes you just can’t beat their favourite toys. For under-ones, these are likely to be toys that light up, pop, ping and whizz and likely playing an adult-irritating tune.
Take a bath
Who says bath time has to be at bedtime? If your baby loves a bath and you know it’s a calming time then use it at other points when baby gets fractious. A change of scene and some splashing can do wonders for everyone’s mood.
Have a garden or lounge picnic
Babies love to explore. Sometimes they may even be a high chair refuser. Now the nicer weather is here, layout a rug in the garden and present finger food in reach. If British summertime fails you, what’s stopping you from having a picnic in the lounge?
Pop them in a cardboard box!
No, we don’t think you should store them away until a day when they aren’t teething and don’t have colic. However, if you’ve had a delivery and got a cardboard box to hand you have got a ready-made plaything that will make baby’s day. Pop them in it with a few favourite toys and watch them having fun whilst you enjoy a cuppa.
Read a book
Babies are never too young to be read to. Babies particularly love board books which have lots of different textures that they can touch and feel. Soon they’ll have their favourites, and the anticipation when you pull them out is palpable. Don’t forget to leave these favourites out for the babysitter so that you can go out and have a break.
Later in childhood, you’ll be telling them not to, but for now, nuzzle down to their gorgeously soft tummy and blow a raspberry. They will giggle and squeal, and fairly soon they’ll be doing it back with great delight.
Scrunch up paper
If you’ve watched a baby at presents giving, you’ll know that usually, the paper holds more allure than the gift inside. Capitalise on this and give baby some scrunched up the paper just for fun. Do watch them though – gummy sucks can cause the paper to fall apart so have new sheets on hand to replace with.
Look at photos
The human face is just wonderful for babies, particularly when it’s the face of the people they know and love. Look at family photos pointing out who people are and what they are doing.
Check out our range of playmats for baby nursery here.
Bake, and give them a spoon
If you enjoy cooking and baking, then get baby started early. They can ‘help’ with rolling, mixing or simply banging a pot next to you. Soon they will be your sous chef!
Things to do with babies at home needn’t be expensive or complicated. Now is the time to bask in low-key entertainment. Sensory activities for babies are particularly important as they explore their world. Have fun and keep going until bedtime; you’re doing a fantastic job.
So when you do get some blocks of time when your baby is fed, diapered, awake, and content, what can you do with your baby?
- Follow your baby’s lead. This is a good starting point. Watch what she is interested in and follow up on that. If your baby turns and looks when she hears a rattle, for example, repeat the sound.
- Mimic your infant’s communication. Babies learn language through the interchange of communication. Your baby coos, you coo back. Your baby waves her arms, and you wave back.
- Engage with your baby. Faces are of great interest to babies. Your baby may enjoy looking into your eyes. Eye contact is a key way to connect with your baby. When you are engaged face-to-face, eye-to-eye, talk to your baby. “Do you feel the wind? The sun sure is bright.” While your baby won’t initially understand the words, your tone is important. And listening to your words will eventually help your baby make a connection between what you say and the meaning.
- Get on your infant’s level. Layout a quilt and get on the floor with your baby—present toys or mirrors to look at.
- Develop your baby’s neck strength. As your baby builds neck control, provide small bursts of tummy time to help strengthen your baby’s trunk, neck, and arm muscles. Some babies don’t like a lot of time on their tummies. Start for just a minute or so, and build up to a few minutes. Always closely supervise, and if your child appears sleepy move her child to her crib on her back.
- Read to your newborn. Hold your baby on your lap and look at a board book together. Point to pictures in the book and name them.
- Captivate your infant’s sense. Provide interesting things for your child to view, touch, and smell. For example, provide different surfaces for tummy time — sometimes a quilt, sometimes the carpet — and let your child experience the different textures. Name them (“this quilt is softer than the carpet…”). Talk about what you have.
- Incorporate your baby into your routine. Carry your child around your house and engage him in your daily routine; show him things, and name them. (“This is where our dog sleeps. And this is where we store the dishes. I see cups and plates and bowls…”). If you have never done this before, you may feel self-conscious at first, but it is a great way for your child to learn your voice and lay the foundation for speech development.
- Know when to hold your child. Each child has a threshold of “holding” time. Some prefer more, while others desire less. Tune into your child’s preference and respond to their cues.
- Sing to your baby. Whether you think you have a nice voice or not, your child will enjoy listening to your voice as you sing simple songs or recite rhymes you remember from your childhood.
- Get siblings involved. Include your baby in your routines with older siblings. This provides its own wonderful experience for all. It is usually the siblings who get the best reactions from babies!
Remember: you don’t need special or scheduled time to play with your baby. The best time to sing, talk, and interact is when you are engaged in the most essential of caregiving routines such as holding, feeding, bathing, changing diapers.
Most importantly, this is an adjustment time—for your newborn, and also for you. Don’t put excessive pressure on yourself, and try to enjoy this unique time of life.