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Playing with your baby

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Play is an important part of your baby's development.
  • Play helps your baby to understand the world and learn valuable life skills.
  • You can play with your baby in many ways, such as with toys, singing songs, or going for walks.
  • It is best to play with your baby when they are awake and interested.

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.

Play helps your baby develop social skills. Human connection helps babies to feel secure and safe.

Play helps your baby to learn about themself and the world around them.

Play helps your baby 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 themself
  • improve their cognitive development through using their imagination and creativity

Early childhood educators are very supportive of play in infancy and throughout childhood.

Play based learning benefits your child's learning, development and wellbeing.

What are the best ways to play with my baby?

Play doesn't need to be complex or structured for babies. Let your child play when they want to. You can offer them toys and other safe objects to get them started. You will be your baby's best 'toy' — you don't need to spend a lot of money on toys to keep them amused.

Try some of these activities with your baby:

  • offer your baby floor time every day — tummy time from birth will help them to build neck and upper body strength
  • talk, sing and make up silly rhymes to share with your baby
  • read to them every day from books with bright colours and familiar images
  • play peekaboo and watch for their responses
  • join a playgroup and socialise with other parents

It's also good to take your baby outside for a play. You can go for a walk and talk to them what you see, like:

  • trees
  • birds
  • pets

This can help them learn about the world and nurture their sense of belonging.

How do I play safely with my baby?

Always supervise your baby's play, even when you think they are safe. Babies are very curious and cannot tell when something may be unsafe.

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

It is important to make sure that:

  • there are no choking or other hazards around your baby's play area
  • 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

You can check that your home is safe for your baby's play by using a home safety checklist.

When is the best time to play with my baby?

Follow your baby's lead to work out when they are most receptive to playing.

Babies often give clear signals about how they are feeling. Try playing with your baby when they are:

  • awake
  • alert
  • interested in their surroundings

Your baby may not be interested in playing if they:

  • start fussing and crying
  • look tired or seem hungry

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 have fun
  • when your baby is well rested, fed and feeling content

Resources and Support

You can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

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

Last reviewed: November 2023

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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?

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