Age-Based Suggestions for Play
Babies gain skills from play…
It stimulates their sensory development
Touch: From soft toys and puppets and infant massage
Hearing: Differentiates and appreciates sounds – from recorded music and caregiver’s singing
Sight: Sharpens visual skills with board books and marking paper with big crayons
- Focus: Watch an infant in a crib focus his/her attention on a hanging mobile
- Muscle development and coordination: From physical play, develops ability to reach out and control by grasping toys
- Physical dexterity: From using empty boxes, nesting blocks, & wooden spoons
- Longer attention span: From squeak toys and plastic link chains
- Self awareness and self-confidence: From looking at oneself in a mirror
- Growing emotional attachment: From holding soft toys and dolls
- Responds to his / her own physical needs: Use teething rings and crib gyms
You are their best plaything.
At first you do the work, but over time they will copy your actions – shake rattle clap hands, etc. Give baby time to focus on or reach out for an object that you hold in front of them. Practice developing the baby’s skill at visual tracking. Shake and then move a rattle or soft toy slowly across baby’s vision, but remember that newborns can’t focus more than 14” away from their eyes.
Talk about anything to them, just talk to them
When baby starts to gurgle/goo, pause, so that you and baby can take turns and you have time to respond. Copy what your baby does after they do, as a form of non-verbal conversation – sneeze, stick out tongue.
Games To PlayHead lifts / Turning over
- Put baby on stomach – shake rattle or squeeze toy slightly above eye level to right or left
- Strengthens neck/arm muscles
- To help child learn to turn over (4-5 months)
- Put baby on tummy, start with an object in their field of vision, move it up and over their head, helping baby to turn over to keep object view
Peek-a-boo: Looking at baby, cover your eyes with your hands, say "Where’s ______?" Remove hands and say "Peeka-boo, I see you (baby’s name)!"
This is a time of hands-on exploration for toddlers. Grown-ups can use play to improve challenging situations, such as…
- Eating – trade bites & let the child feed you, or give a taste to someone else (stuffed animal)
- Bathing – rub noses with washcloth puppet
- Bedtime - Wave goodbye, blow kisses & say “goodnight” to objects in the room.
- Dressing – Allow the child to choose from a limited choice of clothing
What Toddlers Enjoy
- That they can make things happen: Use pop-up toys and flashlights
- Sorting: Give them junk mail, odds and ends basket (key rings, handkerchief, clothespin etc.)
- Filling and emptying: Use water, sand, laundry, cheerios in any of the following - cups, bags, egg cartons, muffin tins, and containers with lids
- Fill Up:
Pushing and pulling:
- Tote bags or plastic grocery bags
- A paper folder with pockets – put in pictures, straws, popsicle sticks
- A hose into bucket
- A large box – put themselves in it
Stacking: Blocks, toys, or cups
Lifting: Try a big empty bag
Climbing and riding: Playground structures, trikes, furniture, you
Water play: Wading pools, hoses, sprinklers, buckets and bathtubs. Try painting the sidewalk, fence or exterior walls with a big paintbrush and water.
- Use pillows, make a pull toy from bottle or a box with a rope
Afraid of trying art activities with your toddler? Art Educator Mary Ann Kohl coaches you to "face the fear" and go for it- "Fostering Creativity: Art with Toddlers and Twos? Face the Fear!"Preschool Play
Preschoolers have made great strides in physical, intellectual, and emotional development. They are much more adept at large motor skills like throwing, jumping, and climbing.
They enjoy creative and imaginative play – dress-up, dramatic play, and art projects. Let your child take the lead, and keep the activities open ended to encourage their creativity. Remember: It’s the process, not the product.
- Building: Can assemble play train tracks and interlocking blocks like Duplos
- Physical challenges: Acrobatics, swings, slides
- Riding: Wagons and vehicles with steering that they can control
- Playing simple board games: Based on chance not strategy
- Imaginative play: Using dress-up clothes and play versions of adult tools like lawnmowers and shopping carts. Also dollhouses, small vehicles and toy buildings from companies such as Playmobil.
- Solving puzzles: Use fit-in, framed or simple jigsaw puzzles with up to 20 pieces for 3 year olds; 20-30 pieces for 4 year olds, and up to 50 pieces for five year olds.
- Making patterns: Bead-stringing with large beads, peg boards with small pegs, and magnetic boards with shapes
- Making music: Use rhythm instruments, pick out one-finger tunes on a piano, or blowing instruments like horns, whistles, or a simple recorder
- Getting messy with art and craft materials: Try crayons, chalk, magic markers (non-toxic), finger and tempera paint, even painting with an easel and brushes.
- Exploring simple science and nature: Geometrical concept toys, simple models of mechanical devices or natural objects, matching toys
- Sand and Water Play: With large and small sandbox tools, sand molds, water pumps, bubbles, wind-up bath toys, and realistic working models of boats (no sharp metal parts).