Baby play: why it’s important for movement and motor skills development
Getting your baby moving through play is good for all areas of his development, especially his motor skills development.
Play helps your baby:
- strengthen the neck and upper body muscles that she needs to hold her head up and move around
- practise reaching and grasping
- strengthen muscles for movements like rolling, crawling and pulling to stand.
You’re the thing that interests your baby most. Playing and moving with your baby is a great way to bond with your baby. You can also give your baby lots of praise and encouragement as he learns more physical skills.
What to expect: babies and movement
At 3-6 months, your baby might:
- reach for toys and roll on to her back during tummy time
- bring her hands to her mouth and reach for her legs and toys when lying on her back
- try rolling from tummy to back and back to tummy.
By 6-9 months, many babies like lying on their tummies rather than on their backs. When babies lie on their tummies, they can reach for toys and move around in a circle. When they’re ready, they might even try to crawl. Other things your baby might do at this age are:
- roll from tummy to back and back to tummy
- sit with your help or by himself
- push up onto his hands and knees
- stand on his legs with your support.
From 9-12 months, your baby might:
- crawl, roll and pull to stand
- sit by herself and reach for toys without falling
- move from a sitting position onto her tummy and back again
- play using both hands.
The key moments in baby development generally happen in the same order, but when they happen might vary from child to child. You can find out what to expect each month in our Baby development tracker.
Tummy time is time your baby spends on his stomach while he’s awake. Doing tummy time from soon after birth helps your baby build neck, head and upper body strength to crawl and pull to stand when he’s older.
At first, your baby might not like tummy time – it might make your baby vomit or she might miss seeing you when she’s on her tummy. If this sounds like your little one, try tummy time on your chest or across your lap. This puts less pressure on your baby’s tummy and can help with problems like reflux. This position also lets your baby see your face.
You could also get down on the floor with your baby. Let him know you’re there by singing, talking, stroking his back or tickling his hands. Try doing tummy time on a range of surfaces, like on carpet indoors or on a blanket outside.
You can start with 1-2 minutes of tummy time, and build up to 5-10 minutes a few times a day as your baby gets used to it.
Tummy time can be tiring, especially for young babies. When your baby gets tired, roll her onto her back for a break before trying again.
Play ideas to encourage movement
From 0-6 months, you could try the following ideas:
- Encourage your baby to move to music and sound by singing songs and rhymes or shaking rattles.
- Place your baby on his tummy to play for short periods several times a day.
Babies aged 6-12 months might like the following activities:
- Place toys just out of your baby’s reach to encourage reaching and moving. You can also use simple toys like rattles to encourage touching and holding.
- Give your baby wooden spoons to bang on pots and pans, or sealed containers with beads inside to shake.
- Sit and support your baby upright on the floor, and move a ball or toy in front of her. This encourages your baby to follow the toy with her eyes, reach for it and grasp it.
- Encourage your baby to pull to stand. Sit him near furniture and encourage him to pull himself up. Make sure that your furniture is sturdy and won’t fall over.
- Encourage your baby to squat from standing. Place some toys on the ground in front of your standing baby so she has to squat to pick them up.
- If your baby can stand with support, try push-and-pull toys like block wagons. If the wagon goes too fast, put some heavy books or a bag of rice in it to slow it down.
- Make tunnels out of chairs or cardboard boxes for your baby to enjoy crawling and moving through.
Quiet, gentle activities are also important, especially for developing your baby’s fine motor skills. For example, picking up small objects or putting pegs into a bucket is good for practising small finger movements. And when your baby spends time just looking at things like colourful books or pictures, it helps him get better at moving his eyes.
Current national and international guidelines recommend that children under two years don’t have screen time other than video-chatting with people they know, like grandparents.
Babies learn how things work and what they can do by practising and making mistakes. It’s normal for babies to sometimes get a few small bumps and bruises when they play. When you make your home safe, your baby can play without hurting herself.
Baby equipment and movement
Baby equipment like highchairs, car seats, strollers, cots and playpens are all useful, but they can restrict some of your baby’s movements. You might want to think about using them only when you really need them.
When you use highchairs, car seats and strollers, try to avoid seating your baby for long periods of time.
Baby walkers and jolly jumpers are not recommended. They can delay walking, crawling and sitting without support. They can also cause injuries if babies move into dangerous areas without supervision, like near the oven, toilet, bath and stairs. Baby playstations or activity centres are safer alternatives.