Varied Play for Well-Rounded Children

For adults, it can be hard to imagine what the world is like through the eyes of a child. Everything is brand new, and each experience is unfamiliar and fascinating. Your curious, growing child is no exception.

As a caring parent, you probably try to imagine new and creative ways to play with your child, but sometimes something as simple as playing outside in the grass can be fun and exciting. Things that may seem boring to you may be a new source of entertainment for your little one.

To ensure that your child gets the full play experience, keep an open mind. If your child tires of the game of peek-a-boo, take a walk outside, read a book together, plan a play date or make a drum set out of pots and pans. Engaging play doesn't have to be expensive; it just needs to interest your child. The best way to find the perfect activity is to keep your child's age and current interests in mind.

Birth to 12 months

The first year of your child's life is huge developmentally. All five senses-touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing help your newborn transform from a sleepy, immobile baby into an active toddler. Especially at this age, learning and play go hand-in-hand, and new activities can challenge your baby to progress socially, gain strength and develop motor skills.

Try experimenting with simple activities with your newborn, like the following that involve the senses:

  • So big! Ask, "How big is the baby?" Gently lift your baby's arms and say, "So big!" Eventually babies learn to lift their arms in response to the question.
  • Tummy time. While awake, place babies on their tummies, surrounded by colorful toys or facing a non-breakable mirror. Stay close by to help your baby if the activity gets too frustrating. A little regular tummy time can strengthen your baby's neck and shoulders. Remember to never leave a baby unattended for tummy time.
  • Sing and talk. Your voice is one of the most comforting sounds to your baby, so comfort your child and play simultaneously by talking to your baby, reading aloud or singing nursery rhymes. As children grow, they may just start singing along with you or participating in the conversation!
  • Funny faces. Try the classic peek-a-boo or simply make silly faces at your baby who may eventually begin to laugh or imitate your expressions.
  • Exercise. It may not look like exercise, but you can help your newborn get a workout by gently clapping his or her hands together while on your lap or moving your baby's legs back and forth in a bicycle pedaling motion.
  • Find the toy. Shake a familiar rattle and let your baby follow the sound to locate the toy. You can also place a toy in front of your seated baby or during tummy time to encourage reaching.

As newborns grow stronger and more aware of their surroundings, they may be able to react to your voice or the sound of a favorite toy with a facial expression or babbling. Your baby may also be able to reach for and hold toys, sit up, crawl, pull-up and even walk before the one-year mark. Continue to challenge your infant by gradually making games more complex or by adapting these games to accommodate your growing child.

12 to 24 months

Your toddler who was cooing and barely rolling side to side just a few months ago may now be going a mile a minute! Chances are that your child may now (or very soon) be ready for activities that require walking, running, climbing, talking, singing, dancing and more. Appeal to your curious toddler with the following or similar activities:

  • Art. Supervise your child while he or she draws, scribbles, colors or paints. Try different canvases, like construction paper, foil, cardboard boxes or actual canvas to make a familiar activity new again. If you're worried about having your entire table painted, try beginning with water finger paint on construction paper or sidewalk chalk outside. Your child can make pictures with minimal mess.
  • Reading. Read to your child, and allow your budding reader to try too!
  • Chores. At this age, your child probably can't distinguish between play and work; toddlers just "do." Let your toddler help you fold laundry, check the mail, pick up toys or other simple, non-toxic chores.
  • Outdoors. Take a trip to the park. Let your child swing, climb, slide and run. You may also feel comfortable letting your child splash and practice swimming skills in a shallow pool as long as you are supervising.
  • Toys. Help your child build with blocks or make-believe with dolls or other toys. Your child may want to simply play in your company or the company of peers. Arrange play dates or encourage other family members, like aunts, uncles and grandparents to play with your toddler too so the old familiar toys stay interesting.

As your active toddler gains confidence and independence, it is important that you continue to supervise play time. Put safety first, and stay close-by as your child explores the surrounding world.

24 to 36 months

Bigger, faster, smarter and stronger, your child has mastered so many activities and is probably ready to experience new games as well. For your maturing toddler, try some of the following activities:

  • Play make-believe. Exercise your child's imagination with dress up or games based on pretend scenarios.
  • Continue to talk and read. Engage your child in conversation and sing along together. Read new and more challenging books, encourage your child to participate in repetitious phrases or plan activities based on the books you read together.
  • Organize. At this stage, your child may enjoy filling up boxes and baskets to carry them around or to dump them out again. Let your child experiment and "organize" in the unique toddler style.
  • Socialize. Continue to encourage your child's budding social skills by arranging play dates or simply letting your child interact with other children at the park, daycare or mommy and me classes.

Play can take on many different forms as your baby transforms into an active toddler. Allow your child to be creative and have fun no matter what the stage. As a parent, you may best support play for your child by being present, keeping safety in mind and not being afraid to tap into your inner child.


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