Some activities are quite complex in what they achieve with little ones. They can stimulate development, be it cognitive, physical or emotional. Play may help concentration and liberate the Einstein in your child, instinctively moulding logical, clear-thinking ability. Games can also be used to calm and soothe an upset child. Play is, quite simply, a parent’s best child-rearing tool.
When your day is jam-packed and your imagination has all but run dry, consult this list for play ideas guaranteed to provide just what you and your little one need – simply respond instinctively to what feels right in the circumstances.
Three to six months
- Lie on your side next to your baby and roll him over your tummy and then back again. Roll him from side to side and along the length of the bed, but stop when he indicates that he’s no longer enjoying this.
- Play peekaboo. Hide behind your hands or a towel and ask your baby, “Where am I, where am I?” and then suddenly show your face.
- Pull your baby gently into a sitting position, and then let him fall back onto a soft cushion. Most babies love an upright position, so they enjoy being pulled up. The surprise element of falling back will delight them too. As he grows, this will encourage him to sit.
- Go for extended walks. Whether your baby is in a pram or in a carrier, walks will soothe him and open his curiosity to everything around him, which happily takes care of an hour or more.
Six to nine months
- Dance with your baby. Babies love nothing more than being twirled around and jiggled up and down to the rhythm of music.
- Tickle your little one. Most babies love the sensation of being tickled all over and will laugh from the depths of their bellies. Stop before the sensations become overpowering.
- Blow air through soft, limp lips directly onto his tummy. Not only will this ticklish sensation delight, but children also enjoy the sound it makes!
- Run a feather up and down your child’s arms and legs and on his tummy. The light touch can give your baby goosebumps of pleasure. If he doesn’t like this sensation, it may be an indication that he’d prefer a firmer massage.
- Cut shapes in a shoe box and let him drop objects through the holes into the box. You can’t expect him to match shapes at this stage, though.
- Make a rattle by covering the ends of a toilet roll and filling with small bells, grains, seeds and dried beans.
Nine to 12 months
- Crawling games provide loads of fun. Turn large carton boxes into tunnels and make a bit of an obstacle course for your crawler. Call to him from the one side, so that he feels encouraged to make his way through to you.
- Hold your baby securely and lift him up to “fly” around the room or garden, occasionally twirling him around, and up and down. Stop if his enjoyment starts to tail off. This is one that dad’s strong arms can cope with for quite a while, and to the great delight of their babies, who’ll soon show that they want more.
- Play telephone. Invest in a toy telephone and while you talk into the receiver of your real phone, let your baby do the same with the playset. Have animated conversations and send kisses down the line.
- Let your child be a drummer. You’ll probably enjoy this one less, but a saucepan, a wooden spoon and a baby are a sure recipe for half an hour of engrossing, if noisy, fun!
- Stacking toys is a firm favourite and encourages dexterity.
- Wooden and fabric books with animal pictures offer tactile stimulation – you can even make them yourself.
- A large magnet (not too small that it’s a choking hazard) and a bunch of keys provide endless amusement.
- Toys that challenge your baby to match shapes are appropriate for this age and stage.
- Tell stories with the aid of hand and finger puppets.
- Give your little one a few items of your clothing and place him in front of a mirror.
12 to 18 months
- Play hide-and-seek. Hide behind curtains or doorways and call to your little one. He’ll find you soon enough but be pleased with himself. This can become a favourite game and soon he will want to hide too.
- Fill a tub with child-friendly liquid soap and water. Add plastic dishes, a brush and cloth and let your child have fun. Don’t let him out of your sight though, as any water source can still be a drowning hazard at this stage.
- Stroke a pet. Children have a special affinity to animals and if the family dog reciprocates this emotion, encourage a whiny child to respectfully stroke his pet. This will often be emotionally therapeutic, but do keep an eye on things so that the dog doesn’t become irritated.
- Summer days simply beg for setting up a baby pool outside. Apply sunscreen to your baby, pop a hat on his head and avoid the midday sun. Add a few buckets and plastic containers and his face will say it all!
- Mud pies are always a special treat. While you water the garden, allow your little one to bake a few mud pies. Simply hose him down afterwards or pour slightly warm water over him if he dislikes cold water.
- Roll a soft, light beach ball to each other. Children love this game, and you’ll enjoy it, too.
18 to 24 months
- Take your toddler on walks to explore his surroundings. This should be at his pace and without a particular goal in sight, allowing him to investigate the feel and smell of the stones, shrubs, sticks and pods along the way.
- Visit an animal farm. Ducks, peacocks, horses, donkeys and cows will impress your toddler, and he will love to feed them, too.
- Get your toddler to pair socks. While you fold the laundry, give him a pile of socks of varying colours and encourage him to look for matching pairs. Praise him when he gets it right and help him when the going gets tough.
- Hide a few things around the house and make a game of searching for them together. After watching you a few times, your toddler will cotton on quickly and enjoy the search.
- Sandpits are a firm favourite from this age. Make sure that it’s kept covered when not in use and that the sand is cleaned or replaced regularly.
- Gift-making can also provide fun for this age group.
- Sheets of firm paper, paper glue and a variety of garden items that you’ve helped your toddler to collect (different coloured and textured sand, fallen leaves, twigs and petals) can be assembled into the prettiest of pictures. Be patient with the mess and let him take some initiative for maximum enjoyment on this one.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.