Play-time has a significant role in your baby’s development. Here we discuss ways to help you enjoy interacting together, with information on baby play and communication.
This article discusses the following subjects related to baby development, milestones, stages, communication and play:
Music and rhythm
Active play with your baby
Discovery play with your baby
Sensory play with your baby
Books and stories with your baby
Using different languages
Babies can learn a lot through play and all interaction between you both is valuable. During the first few months of life, your baby will be developing and learning to smile, look and laugh.
Although he may not be able to respond to you very early on, getting used to hearing your voice and learning to interact with you will always be stimulating. For instance, you can enjoy early 'conversations' with your baby where you talk or make a noise while you have eye contact with him and your baby may respond with a noise or movement themselves.
As your baby becomes older, he will be able to respond to you more and also start to become curious about the world around him. Baby play will become more sensory with him touching, banging and grabbing objects. He will develop emotionally too and you will see his playtime activities becoming more imaginative.
There are lots of ways to enjoy spending time with your baby and help him to develop his communication and understanding of the world. Fitting in some special quality time — switching off the television, phone and computer — and getting down to your baby’s level to follow his lead and play a game, can be really enjoyable for you both.
It’s important to remember that babies are also individuals — just like their parents — and what fascinates one, might not interest another. This is another aspect of their development and you will see this over time, as they start to have favourite games, books or activities at particular points in their early years.
Many things make different babies happy so it is a good idea to try out different ways of interacting with and playing with your child.
Rhymes and songs are wonderful sources of early learning and enjoyment which can encourage your baby's development. Rhymes help your baby to understand the importance of sounds, and repetition means the words are easily learnt. Older babies love action songs and rhymes with stronger beats and rhythms.
Look for new songs as he gets older but go back to the old ones too, especially if he is tired or not well. The familiarity is welcome and comforting.
From an early age, babies enjoy physical contact and movement. Discovering their hands and feet allows them to explore using their senses. They learn from physical interaction with you, watching and copying your facial expressions, and reacting to your touch and tickles.
Older babies enjoy more energetic play, such as bouncing on your lap, sitting on your shoulders and ‘flying’ in the air. As they become more mobile and start to roll, crawl, climb and reach, each of these activities will encourage the development of your baby’s strength and agility.
Physical play also improves motor skills, keeping children fit and active.
Young babies are captivated by contrasting shapes and colours and will use their mouths to investigate different objects in their grasp. Enabling your baby to explore different, safe objects is key to helping their development.
A box with wooden spoons, different sized pots, cotton reels on string and bits of textured materials can be a useful and fun discovery tool for your baby.
Babies are fascinated by their home and the world outside. Young babies can enjoy lying outside underneath a tree, feeling the wind on their faces and watching the tree branches move. Some older babies will love to sit on the grass and feel different textures.
Exploring natural materials such as wood, sand, water and stones are all part of your baby’s growing experiences of the world. This type of play stimulates their sense of touch and sound. It is here they begin to notice the different feel of things — wet, sticky, muddy — and hear how things make different sounds, the ‘whoosh’ noise of water, and clunk of pebbles, for instance.
In addition, when you begin to introduce solids into their diet, letting them ‘play’ with different types of food, allowing them to experience a variety of textures through touch and taste, can be fun and useful for them.
Looking at books and simple stories together is a great activity and you can begin reading to your baby as soon as you like. This can also be a signal that it is time to calm down and have a restful period, perhaps before bedtime or a daytime nap. Enjoy this opportunity to cuddle up and talk together.
Children’s books are available in every shape, size and style. Some are deliberately chewable, or waterproof for taking in the bath. You may want to think about whether you’d like some books kept in good condition to be looked back at later.
Many families use more than one language. Consistency is important so agree with your partner and other family members who will speak in what language to help your child understand and separate the languages. It’s best to talk in the early days in whichever language you are most comfortable and fluent. In this way, your child will learn a wide vocabulary and how to use language easily.
Later on it will be easier for him to learn another language because he has had the early experience of your fluent speech. Bilingual children in general benefit from their knowledge of two or more languages and learn others more easily.
It isn’t always easy to find the time or energy to play with your baby — you may be trying to balance work and family life, and have domestic chores to get done. It can help to remember that one of the most important ways babies learn is simply by watching and listening to the people they love.
Parents can sometimes worry that they should be playing or communicating with their baby in certain ways to encourage their development. But if you focus on enjoying your time with your baby, and doing the things that you both like to do, his development should progress normally with no problems.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 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 by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
You might also like to try one of our Relax, Stretch and Breathe classes, which aim to help improve your physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as give you time to relax and concentrate on your new baby.
Words for Life, a dedicated website from the National Literacy Trust, provides clear information about early communication skills and is a great resource for ideas on bringing these skills into your baby’s everyday life.
NHS Choices provides a guide to Learning and Playing with your child in its early years.
Playday organises the National day for play and has information on events nation wide.