By Raising Children Network
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Playing is one of the best things you and your baby can do together. Play is how babies develop a sense of themselves and their place in the world.

Baby playing with a cloth book
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Play is one of the best ways for young children to find out about and express their feelings. There are some great ways to encourage your child to express his emotions – but keep in mind that play is mostly about having fun!

Baby games

Try the following simple and fun ideas for playing with your baby.

  • Make noise together. Gently bang pots and pans, sing a noisy song (see Baby Karaoke for some ideas), or make animal sounds (the cow goes ‘moooooo’).
  • Start reading. Babies use books to chew on, play with in the bath, and discover new textures. Sometimes they even look at them! When you read together often, your baby realises that books are a lovely way to spend special time together. The growth of literacy skills is a vital part of your child’s overall development.
  • Explore safely. Create safe places in your home where your baby can explore and work on new skills. These might include sitting up, crawling, pulling up, opening cupboards, picking things up then throwing them or putting them in her mouth, and eventually walking.
  • Play simple games. Games like pat-a-cake, peekaboo and ‘this little piggy went to market’ are a real laugh for a giggling baby. They can also do a lot to help his learning and movement skills. Tickle his tummy and show him how to blow raspberries. Splash around together in a shallow bath on a warm day. Fill a small juice bottle with buttons to make a rattle. The list is as long as your imagination!
  • You can develop your baby’s imagination slowly by giving her odds and ends to play with. Try a box of coloured cloth bits or some empty egg cartons.
  • Get your baby moving with some fun physical activities. These might range from tummy time when your baby is little to time at the local playground as he gets older. Activities that children enjoy increase their ability to move with confidence and competence.
  • Toys can be a great way to kickstart your child’s play and support her development. But choosing the right toys can be tricky. Homemade games and toys are a great way to keep babies and children entertained and help them learn and grow – and they don’t need to cost a thing. 
Television isn’t recommended for children under two. If you really want to put the TV on, try to limit viewing time to short stints (10 minutes a day) of educational, baby-friendly programs such as Play School.

How play develops

Play starts from birth. As your child grows and develops, play changes from you playing with your baby, to your baby gradually learning how to play with objects and – eventually – other children.

Playing with other children and making friends is a lot like walking. At first, you’ll need to give your child lots of support as he learns how to do it. Playgroups can be a great way for your child get started on socialising, with opportunities to sing and dance, try new activities and mix with other babies and children.

Follow your baby’s instincts with play. If your baby is looking at an object or toy, you can label what she’s looking at. Show your baby what she can do with the object she’s interested in. Research tells us that this is important for language development.

You might find your baby likes some rough-and-tumble play – most children do. Babies often like to be bounced on your knee or lifted into the air. It’s best to be gentle with young children, though, to avoid any accidental injury. 

How your baby learns

Everything is new to babies – things we take for granted are a first-time novelty for them.

Babies learn some things automatically, like how to fall asleep at a certain time of day (this is based on the internal body clock), how to get what they need (and, later, want), how to eat food, and how to breathe through their mouths when their noses are blocked by a cold.

With other skills and activities, babies need to discover and get bored at their own pace.

For example, your baby has just picked up a rattle in his tiny hand. He moves his arm. The rattle jerks and makes an interesting sound. Your baby moves his hand again. The rattle makes the sound. He moves his hand with great purpose. The rattle shakes noisily. Your baby has just made an exciting connection – he’s discovered that when he shakes a rattle, he can produce a noise. He’s learned that he can make something happen. He has control over some small part of his world.

You can support this process by introducing toys slowly, one at a time, after your baby has tried to squeeze every use out of the one she’s already playing with. This helps her develop her learning and attention skills.

Outdoor play is also a big part of learning and development for your child. Playing outside gives children the chance to explore their environment, create imaginary scenarios, enjoy messy play, become more active and have freedom to express themselves boisterously.

Exploring is one of the ways your baby learns. It’s your job to make his environment safe – and when he plays in a safe environment, you won’t have to say ‘no’ all the time. 
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  • Newsletter snippet: Baby play and learning: in a nutshell

    By Raising Children Network

    Playing with babies helps them develop a sense of themselves and their place in the world. Playtime starts from birth, when everything is new. Babies learn by cause and effect – for example, they learn that when they shakes a rattle it makes a noise. Introduce new toys one at a time, to help your baby develop learning and attention skills. Your job is to create a safe and stimulating environment where baby can explore and learn.

    Baby games

    • Make lots of noise together.
    • Make reading together a special time.
    • Try simple games such as pat-a-cake, peekaboo and ‘This little piggy’. Tickle your baby’s tummy or blow raspberries.
    • Build up a collection of simple but safe odds and ends for your baby to play with.
    • Homemade toys are a great way to play without paying.
    • Fun physical activities are important to get your child moving.
    • Some babies like rough-and-tumble play, such as bouncing on your knee.

    Television isn’t recommended for children under two years.

    This article is an extract only. For more information visit

    Sourced from the Raising Children Network's comprehensive and quality-assured Australian parenting website

  • Last Updated 20-02-2012
  • Last Reviewed 01-12-2011