Games and play for development: 0-6 months

What are the best ways to combine fun and learning in your baby’s early months? Here we discuss play and some of the games that can encourage your child’s development. 

One of the joys of becoming a parent is being allowed to act like a kid again. You’ve got the perfect reason to blow raspberries, dance like no-one’s watching, and perfect your hide and seek skills.

That’s right. Playing is the most effective way for children to learn (Public Health Agency, 2019). It’s a brilliant way to give them the skills they’ll need as they grow up. Through playing, children and babies have an opportunity to have new experiences safely. They get to try different things, begin to solve problems and strengthen their relationship with you.

Let the games begin

Chess might not be that popular with newborns but there are plenty of ways to keep them entertained. It’s important to remember that soon enough your baby will be mirroring your actions. But at this early stage, it makes all the difference if they get attention from someone who is enjoying playtime too.

“Before Freida came along, the thought of entertaining a baby for hours on end left me petrified. Now I can’t wait to get home from work so I can read to her, get the shakers out and generally goof around. Personally, it makes team meetings and answering emails seem pretty dull.” James, dad to Freida, six months

Music maestro, please

We all love a good tune and it’s never too early to sing to your baby. And you don’t actually need to be an accomplished musician to let the music flow.

Babies love the sound of voices (NCT, 2017). Research shows that singing can hold a baby’s attention for longer than just talking (Tsang, 2017). It can also be a more effective way to soothe them (Tsang, 2017).

From when they’re a month old, babies will pause and listen when sounds begin. And by four months, they’ll start to show excitement at certain sounds like music or singing. As soon as they can start to grab, they’ll love shaking a rattle (Public Health England, 2013)

You don’t need to spend a fortune on instruments (until they’re on the brink of being a superstar musician). Babies even love playing with shiny, scrunchy paper. And just remember that anything makes a perfect drum.

Keep fit for beginners

Newborns might seem a little sleepy and sluggish but that’s no reason to stay still for too long. Although you might be doing a lot of the work. Gently moving their limbs, a bit of baby massage and getting them to clap along to music are all good for those rapidly forming motor skills. 

One of the first physical games you can play is tummy time. This helps strengthen their back, neck and arms, and encourages them to roll over (Hewitt, 2017). For added facetime, lie on your back and put your baby on your chest, tummy to tummy. Just make sure your baby is alert and awake. It’s a great opportunity for eye contact and kisses.

Swimming is brilliant. The NHS says you can take your baby swimming at any age (NHS, 2016), so what are you waiting for? Once it’s a week since your postnatal bleeding has stopped you can make a splash with your baby. Read our ten tips to taking your baby swimming for the first time.  

Reading for pleasure

Books can be part of your baby’s world right from the start (if not before). At first, they might not get the subtext of your favourite novel. But there’s nothing stopping you reading a book together, and describing the pictures.

High contrast books with lots of faces are particularly fascinating for young babies. Or draw a few pictures on white paper with a black marker pen.

If you’re lucky enough to have one, use your local library. They are a brilliant source of new books to keep your little one entertained.

But you don’t have to limit yourselves to books. Your baby loves hearing your voice and finding out new stuff. Hone your skills as a tour guide. Describe the different bits of a picture, toy, view from a window or snoozing family member.

“The honk game is hilarious. Going honk as I touch Ruben’s nose has cracked him up since he was tiny. And it was so lovely to see him do it back to me when he got a bit older. We’re easily pleased in our house.” Katherine, mum to Ruben, 12 months

They might not realise at first who’s looking back, but placing a mirror in front of your baby can provide great entertainment value. Playmats with interactive arches covered in bells, mirrors and cuddly stars are a wonder too.  

Sensory heaven

Getting your baby used to different textures, colours and sounds can be a fun game in itself. And you don’t have to rely on a huge book collection. Different fabrics, family photos and your own imagination can conjure up a world of new experiences.

This page was last reviewed in April 2019.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Child development charity Pathways, has some great ideas for keeping your baby entertained.

Hewitt L, Stanley RM, Okely AD. (2017) Correlates of tummy time in infants aged 0–12 months old: A systematic review. Infant Behavior and Development. 49:310-321. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29096238 [Accessed 2nd April 2019]

NCT. (2017) 3-6 months - Life with your baby. Available from: https://www.nct.org.uk/baby-toddler/your-childs-development/3-6-months-life-your-baby [Accessed 2nd April 2019]

NCT. (2017) 3-6 months - Life with your baby. Available from: https://www.nct.org.uk/baby-toddler/your-childs-development/3-6-months-life-your-baby [Accessed 2nd April 2019]

NHS. (2016) Can my baby go swimming before or after vaccinations? Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/childrens-health/can-my-baby-go-swimming-before-or-after-vaccinations/  [Accessed 2nd April 2019]

Public Health England. (2013) Newborn hearing screening: reacting to sounds checklist. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/newborn-hearing-screening-reacting-to-sounds-checklist   [Accessed 2nd April 2019]

Public Health Agency. (2019) Birth to Five. Available from: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/publications/birth-five [Accessed 2nd April 2019]

Tsang CD, Falk S, Hessel A. (2017) Infants prefer infant-directed song over speech. Child Development. 88(4):1207-1215. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27796032 [Accessed 2nd April 2019]

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