In their first 18 months, babies learn to lift their heads, roll over, sit, crawl, stand and walk. Play is the natural way that babies learn, and it’s one of the best ways to get your baby moving. Here are some play ideas.
Daily movement for babies: why it’s important
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 are important for more complex later movements, such as reaching and grabbing
- build muscles for movements such as crawling, rolling, pulling to stand and walking.
The best toy for your baby is you. You’re the thing that interests your baby most. 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 he goes from one amazing physical feat to the next.
What to expect: babies and movement
Before about two months, your baby can’t really control most of her movements, but she’ll enjoy checking out things that catch her eye.
After this, your baby will start reaching and grabbing.
And once baby is rolling or crawling from about six months, you’ll need to look into making your home safer, in case he heads for something dangerous.
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.
Highchairs, 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 can 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 say that children aged 0-5 years shouldn’t be still for longer than an hour at a time, unless they’re sleeping.
Tummy time is time your baby spends on her stomach while she’s awake. Having tummy time from 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 him. Let him know you’re there by singing, talking, stroking his back or tickling his hands. You can also start with short periods of tummy time, and build up as your baby gets used to it.
Tummy time might make your baby vomit. If this happens, you can try placing her tummy down on your chest or lap. This changes her position slightly and can help with problems like reflux. It still gives her the chance to build her muscles.
If your baby just can’t stand tummy time or keeps being sick, it can be a good idea to see your child and family 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 his 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 your baby’s eye movement by looking at colourful books or pictures, blowing bubbles or dangling objects in front of her eyes.
- Get down on the floor with your baby and make funny faces.
- Roll objects in front of your baby to encourage him to lift his 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.
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 screen time
for children under two years. Other play and leisure activities are much better for their development. Switching off your own tablet, phone and other screens and giving your baby your full attention will help all aspects of your baby’s learning and development too.