In his first year, you'll see your baby smile for the first time, chirp enthusiastically when you hold a toy he loves, and later master the art of building a cube tower all by himself. Babies need play to learn to interact with the world around them. Play is a way for them to discover their senses, develop coordination and learn to concentrate. Babies also learn to socialize by playing with other babies and developing their own communication skills.
Why is play so important for my baby's development?
Although it may seem like simple entertainment, your baby's playtime is an important part of his mental, physical and sensory development, helping him to understand the world around him.
Babies learn through play. Play is important for the development of certain brain functions in your child, such as problem-solving, memory and decision-making. In other words, it helps your baby learn to think.
Have you ever observed your baby repeating the same gestures over and over again? For example, does he keep pressing the button on a toy to hear the sound it makes? He's gradually learning to remember what's going to happen next. Repeated play improves your baby's memory and helps him to understand that his actions have consequences (cause and effect).
Around three months of age, when your baby's vision improves and he can distinguish faces and objects at a greater distance, you can start using playtime to stimulate his budding curiosity.
You'll probably notice that your baby starts to look away from you at something that has caught his eye, such as a colorful toy or a friendly face. As long as he's safe, let him explore whatever interests and pleases him. It's good for him to learn that he can try new things, and that he knows you're nearby to support him if things don't go according to plan.
Each new experience will boost your baby's self-confidence, improve his problem-solving skills and foster his independence.
Play can help your baby get moving long before he learns to walk. Even before he can roll over or crawl, he'll love moving his legs, grabbing his feet and wiggling back and forth. This game helps your baby discover what his little body can and can't do, while strengthening muscles and improving coordination.
Spending time on your tummy is a great way to encourage your baby's physical development while stimulating him or her.
You can start placing your baby on his tummy soon after birth. For example, place him on an exercise mat or a light-colored blanket. Try to do this two or three times a day, starting with a few minutes and gradually increasing the time.
Not all babies enjoy lying on their tummies, but it's worth sticking with it, even if it's only for a few minutes a day. Brightly colored toys and objects are a great way to play with your baby while he's on his tummy, as they encourage hand-eye coordination. Hold a toy in front of your child to encourage him to lift his head and reach for it. In this way, he strengthens his neck, shoulders and trunk, which ultimately helps him to control his head and sit up. You can even try getting the child to roll over by holding a toy to the side of his face while he lies on the floor.
Taking advantage of playtime to help your baby and encourage his physical explorations will not only help him acquire new skills, but also give him the confidence to face all the new challenges and experiences to come.
Emotional and social development
Spending time with your baby and playing with him is a good way for you and your partner to strengthen the bond with your child and encourage his first social interactions. Around six weeks of age, you'll notice that your child starts to spend more time looking at you, smiling and waving his arms.
You may also notice that he starts to imitate your facial expressions. Have fun sticking out your tongue or making faces. Your baby will love it when you play with him, and if you take an interest in him, you'll help him feel more confident and loved.
As your child gets older, you may notice that he seems more interested in what you're doing than in what he's doing. Make the most of this natural curiosity by taking an interest in the game he's playing. Even if your baby is still too young to understand the ideas of "alternating" and "sharing", and it will be a few years before he's able to do so, you'll be showing him a good example of how to play with others.
You and your partner are always your baby's favorite playmates. You'll probably find that your baby doesn't really play with other babies in his first year. However, it's a good idea to organize a few regular play sessions with other children his age. Seeing them acquire new skills may encourage him to follow their example!
Playtime is ideal for encouraging your baby to use and develop his five senses: taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell. Babies are curious by nature, and your little one will love touching, grasping, shaking and putting objects in his mouth to understand their purpose.
There are many fun ways to stimulate your baby's sensory development. Most kindergartens organize sensory play for babies of all ages. Your toddler may enjoy watching flashing lights or listening to music. If you have an older child, he or she may be interested in a more interactive activity, such as mashing cooked spaghetti in their hands or splashing others with water. If you're not afraid of cleaning up, you can also try similar experiments at home.
Even everyday activities can turn into a fun experience. Let your baby touch cotton or a damp cloth while you change his diaper. Describe what he's touching and give him time to recognize the different textures.
Bath time is another great opportunity for play and learning. Smelling the warm water, tasting the soap bubbles or hearing the little sound of splashing water is a rich sensory experience that your baby will love and learn a lot from.
Your baby loves to listen to you when you sing a lullaby or read him a story, because it entertains and comforts him at the same time. According to experts, reading stories improves your child's language skills, and can even help him or her do better at school.
When you're playing with your child, describe what you're doing and pause to let him respond by chirping or babbling. For example, you could say, "What's that toy?", then pause to let him answer, and then say, "Yes, that's good, that's a bird. Did you see all those beautiful colors?"
At first, some people are embarrassed to talk to their baby. However, your child will soon understand the "rhythm" of the conversation, and you'll enjoy talking to him. By the age of five months, most children are able to raise and lower their voices in the same way we speak.
A great game for developing your baby's language skills is to point out and name the objects you have around the house. Even if your baby can't speak yet, he'll be recording what you say and learning all the time. You could even make this game a part of your daily routine. bedtime ritualby saying good night to your and your child's favourite toys.
How can I make the most of playtime with my baby?
Pay attention to the signs that your child is ready to play. He'll enjoy it much more if he's happy and content than if he's tired, hungry or if you have to change his diaper. The ideal time to play is when your child is calm but awake. For many babies, this is after feeding and diaper changing, but you'll quickly discover your child's preferences.
Babies have short attention spans, and over-stimulation can overwhelm them, making them cranky and difficult to calm. You can tell your child has had enough if he starts whining or turning his face away from you when you try to play with him. If this is the case, stop the game and move on to a calmer activity. For example, if you've been playing with musical toys why not read him a story in peace and quiet?
As bedtime approaches, choose quiet games to prepare your baby for bed. sleep. Gentle lullabies, soothing stories and massages are a great way to end the day gently.
If you want to watch TV with your baby, limit the amount of time you spend in front of the screen. Some experts recommend that children under two generally avoid television and screens.
Do I need to buy special toys for my baby?
There are many ways to engage and interact with your baby without investing in expensive toys. Babies can occupy themselves with simple household objects such as a wooden spoon and a tapping pan, a sock doll or even a cardboard box.
This is because the way you play with your baby is as important, if not more so, than the toy itself. Show your enthusiasm, smile, laugh, make eye contact and talk with your child to make playtime a real experience, whether he's waving a light-up toy, a musical rattle or a plastic bottle filled with rice.
Even with the best of intentions, homemade toys don't last forever, and you'll probably want to buy your baby some quality toys at some point. Check out our age guide for advice on the best toys to use at each phase of your baby's development.