Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

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

Back To Top

Need more information?

Movement and play ideas for newborns | Raising Children Network

Through play, newborns learn what their bodies can do and practise moving different body parts. Get play ideas to develop newborn movement and motor skills.

Read more on website

Newborns play & learning | Raising Children Network

Want play ideas for your newborn? Here’s all you need on newborns play and learning with articles, videos and resources on toys, talk, play and more.

Read more on website

Play ideas for newborn babies | Raising Children Network

Making faces, singing nursery rhymes and blowing raspberries are great play ideas for newborn babies. The key thing is interacting with your baby. Read more.

Read more on website

Baby and newborn sleep routines: a guide | Raising Children Network

In the early months, it’s best to respond to newborn needs for sleeps and feeds. Follow baby’s lead when it comes to a routine for feeds, sleep and play. Article available in: Arabic, Dari, Karen, Persian, Simplified Chinese, Vietnamese

Read more on website

Play ideas & newborn cognitive development | Raising Children Network

Babies are born ready to learn about themselves, their families and their world. Play ideas for cognitive development include talking, reading and singing.

Read more on website

Newborn baby routines: in pictures | Raising Children Network

Newborn baby routines are all about responding to your baby’s needs for feeds and sleep. It’s good to make time for gentle play too. Get tips in pictures.

Read more on website

Bonding with newborns & babies: pictures | Raising Children Network

Bonding with babies is about smiling, cuddling, massage, singing, talking, reading and playing. See how to bond with your baby in our illustrated guide.

Read more on website

NurtureGroup - Miracle Babies

Miracle Babies Foundation NurtureGroup is free play and support groups for families who have experienced the birth of a premature or sick newborn

Read more on Miracle Babies Foundation website

Toys & games for kids 0-8 years | Raising Children Network

Toys and games for kids – what’s best? Finding the right toys and games is about matching play ideas to your child’s age, developmental stage and interests.

Read more on website

A day in the life of a newborn

Most babies settle into a daily pattern of sleeping, feeding and playing, whether you follow what your newborn does or establish a simple routine.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

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?

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.

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.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.