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In her first 18 months, your baby will learn to lift her head, roll over, sit, crawl, stand and walk. Play is one of the best ways to get her moving.

Baby shaking a musical instrument
 

Daily movement

Getting your baby moving is good for his development, and so is play. So when you put play and movement together every day, you and your baby are off to a great start.

Playing on the floor with you is a good way to get even a little baby moving. This kind of play helps your baby:

  • develop posture, so she can learn to sit without support, and to lift her head when lying on her tummy
  • practise basic skills that lay the foundations for more complex movements, such as reaching and grabbing
  • build muscles that promote movements such as crawling, rolling, pulling to stand and walking.

Before about two months, your baby can’t really control most of his movements, but he’ll enjoy checking out things that catch his eye. After this, he’ll start reaching and grabbing. Once he’s rolling or crawling from about six months, you’ll need to watch more closely, in case he heads for something dangerous. You can learn more about avoiding danger in our article on keeping your baby safe.

The best toy for your baby is you. Playing and moving with your baby is a great way to bond. You can also give your little one lots of praise and encouragement as she goes from one amazing physical feat to the next.

All babies follow a similar pattern of development, but they all develop at their own pace. You can find out what to expect each month in our Babies Development section.

Baby equipment and movement

Restricting a baby’s movement for long periods of time can affect the rate at which physical, social and language skills develop.

High chairs, car seats, strollers, jolly jumpers, cots and playpens are all useful pieces of equipment, but they can restrict some of your baby’s movements. You might think about using them only when you really need them.

Baby walkers aren’t recommended by experts – they’ve been found to delay walking, crawling and the ability to sit without support. They can also cause injuries if babies move into dangerous areas without supervision, such as near the oven, toilet, bath and stairs.

A safe alternative for short periods is a baby playstation or activity centre.

Australian physical activity guidelines recommend that children aged 0-5 years shouldn’t be still for longer than an hour at a time, unless they’re sleeping.

Tummy time

Tummy time is time your baby spends on his stomach (‘tummy’) while he’s awake. Introducing tummy time soon after birth helps your baby build neck, head and upper body strength. Your baby needs this strength for learning other movements later on.

At first, your baby might not like tummy time. If this sounds like your little one, you could try getting down on the floor with her. Let her know you’re there by singing, talking, stroking her back or tickling her hands.

Tummy time might make your baby vomit. If this happens, you can try placing him tummy-down on your chest or lap. This changes his position slightly and can help with problems like reflux, but still gives him the chance to build his muscles.

If your baby just can’t stand tummy time or keeps being sick, it can be a good idea to see your maternal child health nurse or GP for a check-up.

Play ideas to encourage movement

From 0-6 months, you could try the following ideas:

  • Place your baby on her tummy on the floor. Try a range of surfaces, such as blankets and carpet.
  • Encourage moving to music and sound by making the hand movements to songs, stories and rhymes, or by shaking rattles.
  • Promote eye movement by looking at colourful books or pictures, blowing bubbles or dangling objects in front of your baby’s eyes.
  • Get down on the floor with your baby and make funny faces.
  • Roll objects in front of your baby to encourage her to lift her head.

Babies aged 6-12 months might like the following activities:

  • Use simple toys to encourage touching and holding.
  • Place toys just out of your baby’s reach to encourage reaching.
  • Make noise with objects, such as banging wooden spoons on pots and pans, or shaking sealed containers with beads inside.
  • Use push-and-pull toys such as block wagons or carts.
  • Make sure you have sturdy furniture for pulling to stand.
  • Make crawling and moving fun by making tunnels out of chairs or cardboard boxes.

These ideas are good for babies aged 12-18 months:

  • Try ride-on toys from 12 months.
  • Get your baby to practise fine motor skills by putting small containers into larger containers or turning the pages of a book.
  • Sing songs that have simple actions for your baby to copy. Check out our Baby Karaoke for ideas.
  • Use different play spaces, such as swings, tunnels, ramps, slides – or even puddles!
  • Use toys or props that get your child throwing, kicking, running, jumping, dancing, digging or splashing.
  • Allow time for your baby to crawl or walk gradually longer distances, rather than always being strapped into a stroller.

The fun of play is that it can be noisy, messy and dirty! Your child can also get small bumps and bruises – but when you keep a close eye, she can have fun and stay safe while she plays.

Down time

Quiet, gentle activity is just as important for your baby’s development as play that encourages bigger movements. ‘Down time’ play can help babies develop fine motor skills, sight, touch, perception and hearing.

A quiet activity your baby might like is reading stories, especially those with different textured pages or fabric. Scribbling on paper or listening to music are also good options.

Current Australian guidelines recommend no TV or other electronic media for children under two (except listening to music). Other play and leisure activities are much better for their development. For more information, see our article on screen time.
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  • Last Updated 08-08-2011
  • Last Reviewed 08-08-2011
  • Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (2009). Get up & grow: Healthy eating and physical activity for early childhood. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved March 22, 2011, from http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/A8053821E32DED8DCA25762C001D60CA/$File/P3-5616%20Family%20Book%20Combined%20SCREEN.pdf.

    Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (2010). Move and play every day: National physical activity recommendations for children 0-5 Years. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved on March 22, 2011, from http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/CB94BC879F76C211CA2577AE007F78FC/$File/0-5yrACTIVE_Brochure_FA%20SCREEN.pdf.

    Centre for Community Child Health (2009). Television and early childhood development policy brief. Melbourne: Royal Children’s Hospital.

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    Gallahue, D.L., & Ozmun, J.C. (2002). Understanding motor development: Infants, children, adolescents, adults (5th edn). New York: McGraw Hill.

    Ginsburg, K.A. (2007). The importance of play in promoting and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119, 182-191.

    Piek, J.P. (2006). Infant motor development. Champaign: Human Kinetics.