During the first 18 months of your baby’s life, you’ll see them grow and change more than during any other period of their life.
Sometimes they’ll seem like a different person from one day to the next! And because their needs and interests are changing so rapidly, you’ll need to be flexible to keep up with their learning and growth.
These simple, fun activities are entertaining for both you and baby, and they support development as they grow.
At birth, your baby’s only skills are crying and eating, but by the time they hit the 6-month mark, they’ll be laughing, rolling, babbling, and maybe even starting to crawl.
Motor skills are the biggest interest right now as they learn to control their little body, so activities that help develop coordination are sure to be a hit.
Activity: Tummy Time
When your baby is awake and alert, lay them on their belly on a clean blanket on the floor. When very young, start with just a few minutes at a time a few times a day. You can also do tummy time on your belly when they’re young — just lie on your back and place baby on your belly facing you. As they get older, you can gradually increase the amount of time they spend playing on the floor.
As your baby starts to notice and reach for objects, place toys around them on the floor during tummy time. This will give them something to reach for, which will help strengthen their muscles and encourage work toward rolling and crawling.
Tummy time helps your baby strengthen the neck, shoulders, and trunk. It also helps prevent flat head syndrome.
Activity: Grab the Rattle
Hold your baby in your lap, and shake the rattle beside them, far enough away that they have to reach for it to get it.
They’ll probably turn their head toward the sound to see what it is. If they reach for it, then let them grab it and examine it. If they don’t, then move the rattle slowly across in front of them so they can watch it.
Encouraging them to follow a moving object with the eyes like this helps strengthen eyesight, and grabbing the rattle develops hand-eye coordination.
You’ll enjoy watching how your baby’s ability to play this game changes as they grow!
The second half of your baby’s first year will see them transition from infant to toddler.
At 6 months, they’re just becoming mobile. By 12 months, they’ll be standing and maybe even walking. The biggest focus now, though, is developing the mind.
They’re starting to grasp big concepts like cause and effect and object permanence, so games that help them explore those ideas will fascinate and delight them at this age.
Activity: Light Switch
There’s no shortage of toys that will help your baby practice cause and effect, and there’s a good reason for that.
At this age, your baby is starting to realize that they can influence his environment, and this is an exciting discovery.
But you don’t need a collection of toys to amuse your baby at this age — a simple light switch can be even more exciting!
To play, hold your baby in one arm and demonstrate with your other hand how to turn the light switch off. As you move the switch, tell them that the lights are going on and off. Invite them to try.
They’ll be thrilled to discover how they can have an effect on the world around them, and you’ll enjoy having a helper who always remembers to turn out the lights as you leave a room.
Peekaboo is a favorite game for many babies at this age. Although it seems simple, the act of hiding and then uncovering something will help your baby with several developmental milestones, including cause and effect and object permanence.
Try playing by putting a toy under a blanket and asking your baby where it is. They’ll quickly learn to pull the blanket off as you say, “Peekaboo!”
You can also play by hiding yourself under the blanket or by showing your baby how to cover their face. For variety, try hiding two objects under the blanket. And if you really want to surprise your baby, you can hide two balls under the blanket and then remove one without them seeing. When they pull the blanket off to find only one ball where they expected two, they’ll be even more surprised and delighted.
As your baby becomes a toddler, they’re developing a wide range of new skills. But the most impressive at this age is language development.
Over this six-month period, they’ll experience a language explosion. At the 1st birthday, they may only be able to say one or two words, but by 18 months, that will have increased to 10 words or more.
So this age is a great time for games that spark language development and teach vocabulary.
Activity: Baby Performance
As your baby gets older, you’ll spend more and more time (and probably get more and more frustrated!) trying to get them to do what you say.
But right now, following your commands can be their favorite game. To play, teach them to follow simple directions like “clap your hands” or “wave bye-bye.” You can teach them by saying the command and demonstrating how to do it yourself.
You can also take their hands and show them how. When they do the action, praise them and let them see how excited you are.
The point isn’t to get your baby to obey everything you say, but rather to improve their language and communication skills. When you say a verbal direction and they understand and do it, it reinforces language understanding.
As they get older and vocabulary develops, you can start to give them slightly more complex directions that incorporate additional language skills.
For example, instead of saying, “Get the ball!” try, “Get the red ball!” when there are several balls of different colors to choose from. This will require them to recognize an object by its color and category as well as understand the command, all of which strengthens language growth.
Activity: Animal Sounds
Identifying objects and placing them in categories is an exciting milestone for your toddler, and one of the most fun ways for them (and you!) to learn this is with animals.
To play, you’ll need pictures of animals, either in a book or printed pictures. Point to an animal and ask your toddler, “What is this?” and then, “What does it say?”
Learning the different sounds that animals make will help your toddler practice categories and identification, both of which are important language skills. They’ll also strengthen their mouth muscles by trying different sounds, which is fun and great for language development!
There are lots of different activities you can try, but if your baby is having fun and growing, you’re doing it right. Just follow your baby’s lead, and keep in touch with your doctor to make sure your baby is meeting expected milestones.