The first time your child learns a new skill at playtime is very exciting - for both you and your baby! Play is important to your child's development for a variety of reasons - here are some simple ideas for you to try at home.
Infants spend most of the first three months of their lives intently listening to everything going on around them, even trying to reproduce sounds - especially adult voices - by experimenting with the throat, tongue and mouth. Visually babies of this age are drawn to faces and striking objects, and physically they need to learn how to hold their head up, move their neck and manoeuvre their limbs (although not with any sense of control) before they can progress to the next stage of growth. Play time while lying on the tummy is essential for building these motor skills in your baby.
• Because babies are absorbing so much through hearing at this age, play lots of different kinds of music and move your baby's hands, feet, legs and fingers to the music. Songs with actions such as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Round and Round the Garden will amuse your baby, even though she won't be able to join in just yet. Talk to your baby constantly and make lots of noises – it's all helpful for her speech development.
• To encourage muscle control in the head and neck, hold a toy above your baby's eyes so she lifts her head to look at it, and move objects such as rattles and toys horizontally in front of her, and watch your baby follow your fingers. Use a hand puppet or sock for the same effect and on nice days take your baby outside on a blanket for tummy time as there are a lot of things she can examine and observe such as the clothes line and birds.
• Your baby's intrigue with bold colour and light means that mobiles that are tied above your baby's cot and floor gyms with hanging features that are suspended over a bassinet, both of which usually have music, mirrors, and lots of colour and patterns, will capture and hold your baby's attention when she is lying on her back. Hanging pictures with unusual patterns or shiny, contrasting designs, or photos with lots of faces, as well as activity boards and quilts with pictures and also work just as well for your baby to look down at during tummy time.
• As your baby gets older, mobiles and floor gyms further assist with motor skills by persuading your baby to reach for toys and grasp and bat at them, helping her to formulate an understanding of cause and effect and hand to eye coordination.
Your baby will start to exert some control over her individual digits and consequently, objects that she can hold and touch as well. A baby of this age is also beginning to differentiate colours, shapes and sizes, as well as developing association with various smells. Most importantly any activities that combine auditory, tactile and visual experiences such as holding, looking and listening to a book being read, or listening, moving and singing sounds in music, are ideal as they cultivate several of your baby's senses, all at one time.
• Lightly spray your baby's toys with safe, natural scents such as lemon, vanilla and peppermint (nothing that could cause irritation) and let her sniff them one by one. State the name of the smell and repeat it for your baby to hear. Do the same when coming in contact with bad odours such as when you change your baby's nappy or burn some toast – it aids your baby with the distinction of pleasant and unpleasant smells.
• Because babies can recognise a wider range of bright colours at this stage of development, ensure there is plenty of exposure to a broad colour pallet through toys and interior and external surroundings such as green grass, staring up at a blue sky or a bright red rose placed in a vase within their eyeline. In doing this, baby's become familiar with primary colours so that recognition of pastel colours follows shortly after.
• Line up materials of different textures (such as wool, velvet, towelling, lace) along a board and place it in front of your baby to pat and stare at.
• Roll your baby from side to side during tummy time to introduce the movements that are needed for your baby to flip from front to back and vice versa. Hold objects out of reach and watch your baby reach for them. Board books or cloth books are very good for babies of this age as they try to grab and turn the pages.
• Peek-a-boo can become more sophisticated at this age, with parents hiding behind furniture, doors and curtains, instead of just their hands. Making funny noises and laughing during peek-a-boo helps babies realise it's a game and that they're not being abandoned.
Your baby is integrating everything she has learned so far by seven to nine months of age. Motor and visual skills are more in tune with one another, as seen in your baby's capacity to manipulate things using her hands and better hand to eye coordination.
• Give your baby a few sealed containers filled with different items (rice, coins, rocks) and let her shake them and bang them together. Also show her how to make noises with other things that provide a wide range of variations in pitch, such as a bell, a whistle, keys on a ring or a music box.
• As babies become more aware of cause and effect, any items that light up, move, make noise or turn on and off, will be of interest, including mobile phones, TV remotes and light switches so try and find toys with lots of buttons (such a baby entertainment board) to help satisfy these urges.
• Your baby will extend this knowledge of cause and effect to the use of her own body parts and how to use her arms and legs to her advantage as she begins to crawl and pull herself into a standing position. Point and tell your baby the names of her body parts and engage her in games that are full of motion and predictability such as pat-a-cake.
• Once your baby can sit unsupported and have a bath in the family bathtub, bath games are a great way to get your baby to love bath time and playing with water boosts a seven to nine month old baby's sensory range with regards to texture and temperature. Additionally, blowing bubbles with your baby in the bath or in the garden (especially on a breezy day) is bound to create fascination and giggles.
• Your baby's comprehension of object permanence and the ability to seek out hidden objects is a good reason to play games centred around placing toys under covers or in different rooms where your baby needs to move around to locate them.
As baby nears her first birthday, she is able to understand more complex speech and the associations between words and actions such as "kiss" and "clap". By responding to your baby's attempts to communicate, as well as allowing her to move around as much as she pleases, it builds your baby's confidence to start walking.
• Sit at a distance and encourage your baby to cruise towards you or scamper behind her across a room, with lots of positive reinforcement for walking and standing independently, even for a short time.
• Walkers, push and pull along toys, and riding toys will all enhance your baby's strength so she can cruise around more easily in preparation for walking, and you may find she likes to take her toys with her as she moves. Put favourite toys in each corner of a room and entice her to come and get them for herself.
• Making an obstacle course of cushions and pillows will be fun for your baby to crawl and cruise over and around but make sure you help your baby navigate her way through, so she can't get stuck or suffocated in any way.
• Filling and emptying containers and boxes, and stacking and knocking down multiple items such as cups, blocks and plastic rings forms part of your baby's learning about reach, grasp and release. Organising your baby's toys in some kind of category such as size or colour also increases the meaning of these concepts for your baby.
• Similarly, while supervised, show your baby what sinks and floats in a bucket of water and get your baby to throw toys in to make a splash. Throwing, rolling and holding onto things such as balls and crayons is one of the easiest ways to promote your baby's dexterity, as is letting your baby try to feed herself during meals.
• Give your baby toy versions of real life objects such as kitchen utensils, tools and household items like brooms and mobile phones, and let your baby imitate other people while cooking or cleaning, to stimulate her to start engaging in imaginative play.