If you have a hard time coming up with ideas for playing with your baby, here are 45 things I do with Dylan to help spark your imagination.
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EVERYDAY PLAY - Activities that all babies love and will enjoy everyday.
- Read - A lot of people wait to get started reading books until their child is older, but the best time to start is right away! Board books are made to be chewed on by babies and have bright, contrasting pictures that will catch your baby’s eye. Read slowly, using voices if you like, or just putting a lot of emotion into your words. Let your baby chew the book or bat it around. You only need a small number of books, because your baby will love seeing the same pages over and over again. Dylan’s favorites right now are Longjohns and What Do Sheep Do?
- Sing – Later in this list I suggest some specific songs, but here I’m talking about singing as a casual, regular activity that can enrich your lives. Say your baby’s name in a singsong voice. Make up songs to talk about what you’re doing, “Now we go down the stairs, and here we go to the kitchen, do be do wah, it’s breakfast time!” Your songs don’t have to rhyme and they don’t have to have a snazzy tune. Just setting things to a beat and adding the lilt of your voice makes things interesting for your baby and can help lift both of your moods.
- Dance - If singing baby songs is starting to bore you, turn on the radio, Pandora, or some of your own music collection instead. Hold your baby in your arms or use a carrier and get dancing. Your baby will love to sway side-to-side, bounce up and down, jiggle, wiggle, and boogie!
- Take a Walk - Going for a walk is a guaranteed way to sooth Dylan if he’s cranky or tired. I use a Moby Wrap or Maya Wrap to carry him.
- Bubbles - I have never met a baby who didn’t like bubbles. Whether they like to try to catch the bubbles or just sit and watch, all babies love bubbles. Most of the time it’s a really soothing activity, making it perfect for the afternoon or early evening that is often marked by crankiness.
- Play in the Grass - If I set Dylan down in the grass, he enjoys himself greatly with no further input from me for awhile. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a baby who didn’t love the grass. Watch out for choking hazards, but otherwise let your baby explore by feeling and tasting whatever’s available.
- Mirror - Looking into a large mirror is an awesome activity with a baby. Dylan loves to play with the baby in the mirror! The motions and expressions catch his eye and hold his interest. Sometimes I take a bathroom mirror off the wall and lean it up on the ground for Dylan to look into, and sometimes I’ll just set him up on the bathroom counter to look into the mirror on the wall.
- Bouncing On Your Leg – Baby games don’t have to be complicated. Dylan likes to sit on my lap facing me while I make faces at him. For extra fun you can add a word game. I say, “Ride that horsey into town, watch out baby, don’t fall down!” bouncing him on my leg and then tipping him backwards. He also likes “Smooth road”. I sway him side-to-side and say “A smooth road, a smooth road, a smooth road, a smooth road.” Then I bounce him gently and say “A bumpy road” four times, then I bounce him a little harder and say, “A rough road” four times. If he’s in a good mood, at the end I guide him to fall off my lap and we land on the floor in giggles.
- Fun Objects – Be flexible and creative about what you consider a “toy”. Dylan gets a lot of mileage out of kitchen gadgets. Measuring spoons, a whisk, the potato masher, a wooden spoon – all quality toys!
REGULAR ROUTINES - Turn the boring things you have to do into fun favorites!
- Bath - Dylan loves baths! I sit with him on my lap, and let the water fill up around us. He enjoys the sound of the rushing water, and he settles into a very peaceful state when the water starts to get higher. Any day now, though, he’s going to truly discover splashing, and then baths will be a whole new kind of fun!
- Shower – Showers are great, too, in a different kind of way. Dylan lays down at the end of the shower farthest from the spray. I get to stand in the water and have my own shower while he’s splashing in the water at the other end.
- Chores – Involve your baby in your household chores. Dylan likes folding laundry the best. I’ll put one thing away, then drop one thing on his head. Put one thing away, drop one thing on his head. He thinks it’s hilarious. Making the beds is also a big hit when I pretend to lose him in the blankets.
- Run Errands – If at all possible, try to think of errands as an opportunity to interact with your baby, rather than a chore to get through quickly. Sing silly songs in the car, take the time to talk to people at the store, point out interesting things, let your baby leisurely look at things. Take it slow, and enjoy your time together. Dylan loves the grocery store and the post office, although he gets weary of Wal-Mart.
- Get Dressed – Have a fun time putting your baby’s clothes on. Talk about body parts and give little tickles. Scrunch up the arms and legs of clothes and peek at your baby through them. Make silly sounds. Use this everyday activity as a chance to connect and have fun.
- Diaper Changes – If diaper changes seem like an irritating chore, you’re not doing them right! Make diaper changing into a game that you can both look forward to over and over throughout the day. I play “tickle birds” with Dylan on the changing table. I exclaim, “Tickle birds!” and put my hands up high in the air folded like birds’ beaks. When Dylan looks up at my hands, I dive them down to nibble at his neck. We also play, “Where’s Dylan?” where I drop a diaper flat onto his head and act surprised when he pulls it off of his face.
- Food – Your child may have started eating some solid food at this point, but food is mostly just for fun at this point. Help your baby try foods with different tastes and textures. Does your baby like sticky stuff or squishy stuff or leafy stuff? What about sweet things or sour things? Dylan’s current favorites are carrots, grapes, and brussels sprouts.
ENRICHMENT ACTIVITIES – But don’t worry too much about development. Just have fun with your baby!
If you read this whole page and need even MORE ideas, Baby Play and Learn will take you through the first three years of your child’s life with 160 great games to play.
- Have A Conversation – It’s so much fun when babies start to babble. When your baby starts “talking”, talk back. With Dylan, I wait for pauses in his babble, and then I babble back at him or say things like, “Tell me more,” “You don’t say,” “Isn’t that interesting,” etc and then wait for him to say something else.
- Talk, Talk, Talk – As I’m doing this-or-that around the house or out-and-about, I talk about everything I’m doing. I point to things and name them, ask Dylan questions, and then answer them myself. It can feel kind of dorky when you first start babbling about everything going on, but it’s extremely valuable for your baby who will soak it right up.
- Eye Contact – Catch your baby’s eye, then look away, then quickly look back, and smile great big. Or make eye contact, then close your eyes, scrunching your whole face and shoulders up tight, then pop open with a huge surprised look. Or try classic peek-a-boo where you cover your face with your hands, then take your hands away and say “peekaboo!”
- One Too Many – Get three small objects that your baby will like, such as three small colorful blocks. Hand one to your baby and then then another one, so that both of your baby’s hands are full. Then try to hand over the third one. Your baby will have to make the decision to drop one in order to take the third. I really like the facial expressions that happen as Dylan is just learning skills like this.
- Stacking – Stack blocks or nesting cups. Your baby may not be able to stack anything yet but will like to watch you stack things and then will love knocking your stack down! Talk about what you’re doing: “I’m stacking the blocks. Look, one, two, three. One on top of the others. See, a stack.” Then when your baby knocks them down, laugh, and then start another stack.
- Hiding Objects – Take a small object and place it under a cup (or bowl, box, etc). Encourage or help your baby to look under the cup or push it over, and then you can act surprised and talk about the object, “Look! A red block!”
- Out of Reach - Take an interesting item and set it down just outside your baby’s reach. After a moment be helpful and hand the toy over if needed, but you may find that your baby soon loves to scoot, crawl, and wiggle around to get things. I also like to sit or lay a few feet away from Dylan playing with a toy myself. Sometimes it will catch his interest and he’ll come crawling over to check it out.
- Opposite Everything - Opposites can turn almost anything into a baby game. Do something, then the opposite of it, exaggerating the words and making big faces. Hold your baby up in the air, then down near the ground and say, “High and low”. Squat in front of your baby, make eye contact, then stand up, and repeat, saying “Up and down,” or “Tall and short.” Sit facing your baby and put a blanket over both your heads, then take it off, and say, “In and out.” You get the idea. Opposites are a never-ending source of baby games.
PHYSICAL FUN – Get your whole bodies involved in play.
- Fabric Dancing – I like to gather up a bunch of different fabrics – scarves, socks, ribbon, etc – of different lengths, textures, and colors. I’ll play music and move around tossing the fabrics in the air, brushing them past Dylan’s skin, touching his face with the fabric, and letting him touch them. Try it with quick movements or moving super-slow.
- So Big – I sit Dylan on my lap and hold his hands and say, “How big is Dylan?” Then I raise our hands over his head and say, “Soooooo big!” I do this two or three times, and then the next time I say, “How big is Dylan?” he raises his hands on his own. So cute!
- Armnastics – I lay Dylan on his back and take his hands in my hands. I lift his hands over his head and say, “Your arms are up,” then put his hands down by his hips and say, “Your arms are down,” all with big smiles and exaggerated words. Then I’ll put his arms out wide to his sides and say, “Your arms are out,” then pull them in and say, “Your arms are in.” I’ll swing both of his arms over to one side and then over to the other side and say, “Your arms go side to side.” It sounds more like siiiiiide to siiiiiide, of course. Go slow and giggle and have a good time.
- Body Parts - Touch a part of your baby’s body and name it. Say, “Here’s your arm, there’s your elbow, I found your toes!” Show off your body parts, too, “Look at my fingers wiggling!”
- Balancing Baby - Use a large ball like a beach ball, birth ball, or yoga ball for this game. Place your baby to sit on top of the ball and hold hands while you gently sway or swirl your baby around. When Dylan is agreeable, I put him on his stomach on the ball – like wave surfing or flying like Superman! Keep a good grip on your baby so the ball doesn’t get away from you.
- Funny Faces - Set your baby so that you can be face to face, and make silly faces. Stick out your tongue, move your lips around, raise your eyebrows, wrinkle your nose. Let your baby touch your face and make your features react to the touches.
- Give a Massage - Lay your baby down in front of you and give a massage. Make tiny circles with your fingertips, big circles with your flat hand, or roll your baby’s limbs around in your grasp.
SIGHTS, SOUNDS, SENSORY SMILES – With a baby, there’s always something new to experience.
- Different Voices – Pick a song you like a lot (my favorite these days is Itsy Bitsy Spider) and sing it to your baby repeatedly in lots of different voices. Try a high-pitched squeaky voice, a deep low voice, a scooping drawl, sing it fast, sing it slowly, etc.
- Buzzing Bee – Put your thumb, index, and middle fingers together and slowly wave them around in the air making a buzzing sound. Circle your fingers closer and closer to your baby and then have the bee alight on an arms or leg and give a little pinch. If your baby smiles or giggles, keep doing it. Try using both hands for two circling bees.
- Flashlight – Sit your baby on your lap in a dark room and shine a flashlight slowly around the room so that your baby can follow the light around. Trace it along the walls, the ceiling, the floor. Flick it off and on slowly. Let your baby touch and play with the flashlight.
- Boop – I lay Dylan on his back and circle my finger in towards his face. When I touch his nose, I say, “Boop!” Then I pick up his feet and touch them to his nose, and say, “Boop!” Then I pick up his hand and touch it to his nose, and say, “Boop!” Then I touch his hand to my nose, and say, “Boop!” Then I lean in and touch my nose to his nose, and say, “Boop!” If that was fun, do it again!
- Shakers – Find a small container that you can fill. Plastic Easter eggs work, or I use tiny plastic food storage containers. Fill them with a little bit of rice, beans, rocks, bells, buttons, or any other small items you can find so that they make interesting sounds when shaken. Make sure they are securely closed. Shake them with your baby. Play music or sing songs and shake to the beat. Shake them and dance! Try banging them on things, too.
- Look at Pictures – Look at pictures in magazines or photos of friends and family. Point out the things that you see. Say, “Where’s Daddy? Do you see him? There he is! Do you see the clouds? These are clouds…”
- Creeping – Walk your fingers up your baby’s arm and say, “Creeping, creeping, creeping / Comes the little cat / Meow, meow, meow, meow / Meow, meow, meow, meow / Just like that.” Finish at the nose and tapping it just as you say “that”. Then creep up the other arm!
- Textures Crawl – Arrange different textured items on the floor together – use a bathmat, door mat, carpet, shower curtain, etc. Anything that has a different texture and takes up a bit of space. Then crawl around on the items and talk about the textures. “This one is smooth. Do you feel the bumps? Ooh, soft!” And so on.
- Playing in the Sink – My kitchen is usually too messy to accommodate a baby up on the counter, but Joshua and I play with Dylan in the bathroom sinks. He likes to pull on the hardware and feel the water on his toes. The baby in the mirror is right there for extra fun, too!
- Take Pictures – Don’t forget to take loads of photos of your baby. You may even find out that your baby likes to primp and pose for the camera. Dylan has started trying to eat the camera, which has led to a lot of really close up blurry photos as I try to get in a shot before he drools on it!
Songs – The perfect song is one that excites you so you’ll sing it over and over. What are your favorites?
Check out Baby Genius Favorite Children’s Songs for a DVD/CD combo of – you guessed it – some favorite children’s songs!
- Piggie Toes - Sing, “One little, two little, three little piggies, four little five little, six little piggies, seven little, eight little, nine little piggies, ten little piggie toes,” and then back down to one as you wiggle each of your baby’s toes.
- The Hokey Pokey – “You put your (right hand) in. You pull your (right hand) out. You put your (right hand) in, And you shake it all about. You do the hokey pokey, And you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about!” Then do more body parts! Listen to the song here.
- The Wheels on the Bus – This is a great song for having your baby help out with the actions. Hold hands, and then have the wheels go round and round, the wipers go swish swish swish, the doors go open and shut, etc. Dylan loves this one! Listen to the song here.
- The Itsy Bitsy Spider – Another classic and one of our favorites. “The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout / Down came the rain and washed the spider out / Out came the sun and dried up all the rain / And the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again.” Listen to the song here.
And One Bonus Idea
- Do Nothing – Lay down near your baby and be quiet. Not every moment has to be full of motion and sounds. Sometimes Dylan and I will lay side-by-side, looking at the ceiling. Sometimes he will babble softly or will be tracing his hand along my skin. It’s a soft, peaceful moment between us.