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Playing with your baby

5-minute read

Why is play important for my baby?

Play is about more than just having fun. For your baby, play is the foundation on which they will learn a whole range of skills. It’s not just the activity they’re doing when playing, but what they’re learning about at the same time.

Play helps babies to develop skills in being social. One of their first developmental stages is to learn to smile and engage with other people. This human connection helps babies to feel secure and safe so their energy can be invested into growing.

Play helps your baby to learn about themselves and the world around them. It’s an interesting way to spend time because unlike many other behaviours babies display, play is not about survival but for enjoyment and pleasure. And through the hours of entertainment they gain through play, there are flow-on benefits to every area of their development.

Play helps babies to:

  • explore their world and how to engage with it
  • move and control their body — this is called spatial awareness
  • develop gross and fine motor skills
  • learn about emotions and how to express themselves
  • improve their cognitive development through using their imagination and creativity

Early childhood educators are very supportive of play in infancy and throughout childhood. They say that play based learning helps to encourage critical skills and understanding which bring lifelong benefits to a child’s learning and wellbeing.

What are the best ways to play with my baby?

Play doesn’t need to be complex or structured for babies — some of the best opportunities for play are spontaneous. Remember, you will be your baby’s best 'toy' — you don’t need to spend a lot of money on toys and gadgets to keep them amused.

Try some of these activities with your baby:

  • talk, sing and make up silly rhymes to share with your baby
  • read to them every day, even from birth — choose books with bright colours and familiar images
  • play peekaboo and watch for their responses
  • take your baby outside for a walk and talk about what you see &masdh; trees, birds, pets and other people are all part of their world though they won’t know this unless you point them out
  • offer your baby floor time every day &mash; tummy time from birth will help them to build neck and upper body strength
  • join a playgroup and socialise with other parents

How do I play safely with my baby?

Always supervise your baby’s play, even when you think they may be safe. Babies are very skilful at finding the smallest item on the floor and putting it straight into their mouth.

Adapt your baby’s play activities as they age and reach new developmental stages. What can be safe for a very small baby may not be once they become a toddler and are more mobile.

Safety check

  • Your baby’s environment is safe and there’s no choking or other hazards.
  • Their toys don’t contain button batteries, loose ties or sharp edges.
  • The people around your baby are safe and responsible.
  • You protect your baby’s skin and eyes when outside.

When is the best time to play with my baby?

Follow your baby’s lead for when they will be most receptive to playing. If they’re hungry or tired, they’re not going to be interested and their attention span will be short.

Any time of the day is fine for play, but you may want to avoid stimulating your baby when they’re ready for sleep. Play can be very exciting and it can be difficult to calm your baby down.

Look for small windows of play opportunities, rather than long sessions of play. A mix of quiet and more physical, active play generally suits young babies.

The best play opportunities will happen when:

  • you aren’t rushed and have time to invest into playing and having fun
  • when your baby is well rested, fed and feeling content
  • either inside or outside — play can happen anywhere at any time as long as you and your baby are ready
  • when your baby seems interested in what’s going on around them — their eyes will seem bright and open, they’ll be animated and smiling and focused on you
  • your baby initiates play — they’ll give cues that they want to engage in a game and seem to become excited when you start playing with them

How will I know if my baby doesn’t want to play?

Babies often give clear signals that they’ve had enough of playing and want to do something else. Remember, a lot of your baby’s behaviours are impulse driven so don’t take it personally if they don’t want to play or they’ve had enough.

Your baby probably isn't interested in playing if:

  • yhey look away and their eyes are no longer focused on the game
  • start fussing and crying
  • look tired or seem hungry

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2022


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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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