4 to 6 months: immobile to rolling
Most babies aren't crawling before six months, so playtime can be contained to a defined soft floor area. But as babies of this age aren't very mobile, you'll need to facilitate and guide your bub's activities more than an older baby (who can independently move to the toys they want).
Your baby can probably roll over now, making them capable of moving small distances alone. This can turn into a fun problem-solving game as you place a favourite toy across the mat – once your baby spies it, they'll have to use a combination of physical (rolling) and cognitive skills (thinking) to reach the toy!
Foster communication and emotional connections by singing, reading and talking to your young baby. Introducing story time as a daily ritual promotes language from early on. Young babies are also captivated by new sounds, especially your voice singing or making different noises. Your baby may respond by cooing or trying to imitate you.
Your baby will enjoy lying under the baby gym or sitting in a bouncer with an activity bar, swiping and batting the toys. Similarly, plush toys with various textures and bright colours, like ridged plastic rings or crinkly fabric, will stimulate their sense of sight, touch and sound. They can also practise grasping with toys such as rattles or plastic links.
Babies of this age love surprise games like 'peek a boo', as well as studying faces up close by looking and touching (in fact, watching your mouth helps them learn about speech). Gazing at themselves in the mirror is a stimulating activity during tummy time – simply prop a safe mirror up as they lie on the playmat.
7 to 9 months: sitting to crawling
It's likely your baby has mastered sitting by now, opening up a whole new perspective on playtime! They can reach for toys and start to enjoy some independent play by making their own choices of toys and how they explore them.
Sitting babies will have fun rolling a ball back and forth between the two of you. Use a soft ball (fabric balls with bells inside add auditory interest), and ensure the ball is small so your baby can practise picking it up. Sitting up also enables your baby to engage with toys such as drums and xylophones; the classic saucepan and wooden spoon; or music activity centres; all of these will help them explore cause and effect.
Another suitable activity for this age group is packing and unpacking objects from a basket or box. Your baby will improve their fine motor skills by reaching in and removing objects one by one, then putting them back in. Many babies will repeat this process over and over again! For further stimulation, add items according to a theme such as texture or colour, and name and describe each object as it is unpacked. (Be sure to choose safe items that can be mouthed because this is one way that babies learn about taste, shape and texture.)
10 to 12 months: crawling to walking
Most babies are crawling by this age, many are pulling themselves up to a standing position, and some may even be walking! Encourage your baby's independence and gross motor coordination with push-along trikes, trolleys, walkers, and activity centres that they stand to use. Ride-on toys also promote balance as they stand or sit astride them.
Babies of this age have developed their fine motor skills and can now move toys from hand to hand, as well as pick up small objects using thumb and forefinger (the pincer grip). Practise these skills with simple building games (e.g. stacking cups or blocks), or picking up small items and putting them through a tube or into a slot. Always supervise your baby around small objects.
Crawling babies will love simple hide and seek – get on hands and knees behind the couch or curtains then surprise each other. You can also set up an obstacle course with tunnels to crawl through, cushions to roll onto, and blankets to hide under.
Language development varies greatly, but some babies will have a few speech-like sounds/words at this age. No matter what stage your baby is at, encourage speech by responding to their babble. You can introduce social concepts at this stage too, such as waving 'hello' and 'goodbye' to friends, and modelling basic manners such as 'please' and 'thank you'. Remember that you are your baby's greatest influence, and they will imitate you, so setting an example is a great way to teach your baby about social cues.