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August 18, 2022  |  Baby & Kids

Some think playing with babies is just for fun, not for learning; our baby and kid expert weighs in

In the first few months, it might seem as if your baby doesn’t do much besides eating and sleeping. But is it important to make time for playing to help your baby learn, or is playing with babies just for fun?

We consulted our baby and kid expert Dr. Aimee Ketchum to see whether she thinks playing with babies is for fun, learning or both. As a pediatric occupational therapist experienced in early childhood development, Ketchum knows how to help children with growth and developmental milestones.

Benefits of playing with babies

Ketchum believes that playing with babies is essential for fun, learning, bonding and attachment, and she noted that “babies learn from the sound of your voice, how you handle them and what experiences you expose them to.” Here are a few benefits of playing with babies.

Building relationships

Whether interacting with parents, siblings or other children, playing helps babies with social and emotional development and teaches them how to take turns and share. “Play helps children learn how to manage their emotions and begin to understand others’ emotions,” Ketchum said.

Developing senses

Ketchum noted, "Babies learn through all the information they take through their senses. They make sense of the world by what they see, hear, touch, smell, taste and the movement on their bodies.” 

Problem solving

According to Ketchum, “Play is a way that babies learn how objects work, how people work, and eventually babies learn how to problem-solve through play.” As they get to higher play, children build creativity and imagination and start developing logical and critical thinking.

Developing literacy and speech 

To form the foundation for their own language, babies and children need to hear at least 2,000 words per day. This is accomplished through talking, singing and reading books. 

How to play with babies

Get on the baby’s level

Playing with babies doesn’t have to be complicated or include a lot of toys. Instead, get on your baby’s level, and interact with them and whatever interests them. Ketchum calls this baby-led play, which helps babies feel their desires are being met. For example, if they are playing with a red ball, say things like, “This is a red ball. It is small and smooth. Can you feel how smooth it is? You can roll it or bounce it or hold it in your hand.”

Newborn to 3 months

While playing with a newborn baby may seem challenging, it’s actually straightforward. Newborns can best see about 8 to 10 inches from their face, so get in close when you’re reading, singing or talking to your baby. A mirror makes an excellent toy during tummy time since babies prefer to look at their face and other babies’ faces. “They can best see black, white and red because the rods and cones in their eyes are not formed yet, so provide black, white and red toys and mobiles for newborn babies to look at,” Ketchum said.

3 to 6 months

Provide objects that fit in your baby’s hand for them to hold. However, ensure it’s safe for your baby to put in their mouth.

6 to 12 months

Since babies are on the move, it’s essential to provide toys on the floor and allow babies to move around their world.

Avoid electronic toys

Ketchum advised against electronic toys because they often take the place of human interaction. She also suggested that time in seats, bouncers or other containment should be limited.

FAQ

At what age can you start playing with your baby?

A. You can start playing with babies when they are a newborn. “Babies are interactive and interested in their world from the minute they are born,” Ketchum said. 

How much playtime do babies need?

A. There are two types of playtime for babies — free play and guided play. 

  • Free play is when babies are given time to move around independently on the floor. It helps them practice motor skills, including rolling, crawling and pulling themselves up to stand. During free play, babies learn to control their emotions, to remain calm and focused during activity and how to problem-solve. 
  • Guided play is when a parent or caregiver leads the play. Ketchum advised that babies should get several hours combined of free play and guided play per day.

Is it possible to play with your baby too much?

A. No. Babies learn while they are playing, so it’s impossible to play with your baby too much. However, they can get overstimulated if there is too much noise and activity. So, try to avoid electronic toys with flashing lights and loud noise. Instead, opt for reading, talking and interactive play.

What you need to buy for playing with babies

Sassy Tummy Time Floor Mirror

Sassy Tummy Time Floor Mirror

Babies love to look in mirrors during tummy time and discover who they are. The black, white and red colors are perfect for visual development, and the ladybug and bee are interactive.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Best Sassy Reversible Soft Sensory Activity Panels

Sassy Reversible Soft Sensory Activity Panels

With various patterns, textures and colors, these activity panels are ideal for growth and development. Each panel has a handle for hanging or can be used on the ground.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Buy Buy Baby

Best B Toys One Two Squeeze Baby Blocks

B Toys One Two Squeeze Baby Blocks

Each of the 10 blocks has a unique color and hand-sculpted design for babies to explore. They’re also BPA-free and safe for babies to put in their mouths.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Best Choice Products Five-Piece Kids Climb and Crawl Soft Foam Block

Best Choice Products Five-Piece Kids Climb and Crawl Soft Foam Block

Let babies play independently and learn about themselves and their surroundings with these climb and crawl foam blocks. They are made of safe, child-friendly materials and are entirely soft. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Books-See, Touch, Feel-A First Sensory Book

See, Touch, Feel: A First Sensory Book

Reading books are one of the best ways to play with your baby. This book features a variety of colors and textures to help babies learn through sensory play.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Best Melissa & Doug Farm Wooden Chunky Puzzle

Melissa & Doug Farm Wooden Chunky Puzzle

These chunky wooden puzzles are the ideal size for a baby’s hand. Plus, completing a puzzle develops problem-solving skills.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Buy Buy Baby

Best Tomy Toomies Hide and Squeak Eggs

Tomy Toomies Hide and Squeak Eggs

While these adorable eggs are fun, they also provide a ton of educational benefits. Each egg is a unique color and features a shape at the bottom that corresponds to a shape in the carton.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Bre Richey writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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