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Play-by-Play: How to Play With Your Baby at Every Age

Play-by-Play: How to Play With Your Baby at Every Age

When we were expecting our baby boy, I (like most other first-time moms) did TONS of research on everything from sleep techniques to strollers to swaddling. But in my extensive research (and let's be honest, extensive shopping), I really didn't spend much time thinking about toys and how to entertain my growing baby. I guess, at the time, I was mostly focused on that cuddly newborn stage that I thought would last forever. When my baby (who was only two months old at the time) suddenly became very interested in one of the two baby toys I had for him, I was totally caught off-guard and unprepared.

Now that my little man is almost four years old, and has so many toys that they're spilling out of his closet and even out of his bedroom, I'm definitely a little more informed about how to entertain him and help him learn as he grows. So if you're in that fun stage of constantly researching the best of the best for your little one (because what else are you supposed to do when you can't sleep at night?), here are a few of the things I've learned that might help you be a little more prepared than I was!

How to Play With Your Newborn to Three-Month-Old

For the first couple of months, you'll mostly be holding and cuddling with your tiny baby. But as your baby's neck muscles develop and get stronger, he will be able to begin tummy time. You can start by laying your baby on your chest and leaning back in a comfy chair. Then, as baby's neck gets stronger and stronger, and he's able to hold his head up, you can lay your baby on a flat surface for tummy time. Your baby might also start becoming interested in bright-colored objects as their eyesight develops. But make sure to keep playtime simple, gentle, and avoid overstimulating your baby. This is also a great time to start reading books to your baby, even though your future college graduate doesn't really understand what you're saying...yet. For now, they just love hearing the sound of your voice and being close to you. But as they continue to grow, these stories will become a large part of their vocabulary. You can also sing songs, share your favorite nursery rhyme, or just talk to your baby.

How to Play With Your Three- to Six-Month-Old

At this age, your baby will really start becoming more awake and alert...and most importantly, ready to play! By three months old, your baby will be able to start waving her hands and reaching for things. This is a great time to introduce toys that she can hold. You can begin by holding toys such as a bright-colored rattle or mirror, within her reach and letting her grab for it. I also highly recommend investing in a play mat or other toy that has a toy bar so your baby can lay under the bar and reach for the toys above them. At this age, your baby's neck should also be strong enough that you can consistently lay him down for tummy time. To help your baby's neck muscles continue to grow stronger, help avoid flat spots from developing, and to help your baby prepare to roll over, you should aim for 20 minutes of tummy time each day. Our little boy loved laying on a bright-colored blanket (his absolute favorite blanket was one from my husband's childhood) or a cute play mat. Just make sure you watch your little one and end tummy time if they seem to be getting too tired.

How to Play With Your Six- to Nine-Month-Old

By six to nine months, most babies can roll over! And a lot of babies will also start learning to crawl at this age. Playtime can be a great opportunity to place several toys on the ground nearby and let your baby try to reach, roll, scoot, wiggle, or crawl toward them. Balls they can grab with their tiny fingers, or other toys that roll around, are a great option to motivate and help your baby learn to roll over and crawl. At this age, most babies can also sit up unsupported, which opens up lots of other ways to play! Now, instead of just lying in the bath tub, your baby will probably be more interested in fun bath toys...and splashing! Just don't get too confident in your baby's ability to sit up, and make sure to stay close!

How to Play With Your Nine- to Twelve-Month-Old

As your baby gets closer and closer to her first birthday, her ability to move will continue to improve, forcing you to constantly baby proof and adjust to her improved mobility! Most babies crawl by nine months old and walk close to their first birthday. A baby's fine motor skills will also dramatically improve. Your baby will actually be able to pick up objects, so toys she can stack, move, or sort will quickly become more fun and less frustrating! Your baby's cute babbling will also start turning into actual words, so reading to your baby has never been more important! At our house, our favorite time to read to our little boy is just before bedtime when he's at his most cuddly! This gives our little family the best opportunity to cuddle and be together, and it also helps him (and us) calm down and get ready to fall asleep!

During all of these different stages, the most important thing to focus on during playtime is spending time with your little one! We all want our kids to hit their milestones on time, and playtime is a great time to help them gain the muscles and the skills they need to do this. But there's nothing better than getting down on the same level as your child, focusing on him (without any distractions) and just being together! And as his abilities and imagination grow, he might even start teaching you a few things! I know my little boy has!

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