Playtime Activities that Encourage Development

As parents and caregivers, we want to create environments that help our children reach their fullest potential. We pay attention to their "firsts", chart their length and weight, and keep track of diapers and feedings.

Looking for playtime ideas to encourage development from 0 to 2? Tweet this!

But there are also other things we can pay attention to that will ensure our little ones are progressing along the right path. And we can start at the beginning. It’s hard to believe that even a baby who sleeps most of the day could actually need developmental stimulation and encouragement, but she does!

0-3 months: Eye Contact and Tummy Time

The tasks at this stage are neither difficult nor time consuming, but they are extremely important for lifelong development. Even in early infancy, babies begin to recognize familiar faces, so make plenty of eye contact with her. While face-to-face, you can:

  • coo with her
  • smile at her
  • make silly baby sounds

You may feel silly, but simple activities like these are essential for healthy brain development! Additionally, she needs to strengthen her neck muscles so tummy time is a must. Initially, she’ll probably hold her face up for a second or two. As she gets stronger, she can raise her chin and her chest, and look left to right. Few babies love to lie on the floor on their tummies for any period of time, so mix it up:

  • put her on your chest as you lie down
  • lay her on her tummy sideways across your lap
  • hold her on her tummy sideways across your arms while you stand (and swing a bit)

Look for more great ideas on our Pinterest board "Developmental Help."

3-6 months: Rolling and Reaching

At this point, your baby is probably playing on his back and able to kick up a storm. He's babbling to get your attention, and will reach for objects he wants. The combination of these abilities will help him learn to roll over- usually from stomach to back first and then back to stomach by 6 months. His trunk and neck muscles are getting stronger, so he will also be learning to sit up around 6 months. Some great playtime activities for this stage are:

  • mimicking his sounds and facial expressions
  • playing patty cake and peek-a-boo
  • holding a favorite toy for him to reach for, either from sitting or from lying down

Our Pinterest boards "Infant Focus" and "Developmental Help" have many more helpful ideas.

6-9 months: Sitting and Socializing

Around this stage, your daughter should be able to sit up with less and less help, allowing her to begin leaning for objects just out of reach. She should be rolling over with ease as well. The combination of these skills prepare her for crawling. She also should be responding well to social and environmental stimulation, such as

  • picture books
  • musical toys
  • familiar songs (especially with hand movements)

She will also begin initiating activities such as making noise with objects, shifting toys from one hand to another, clapping, and communicating with caregivers with her body language or vocally. Be attentive, name her actions, and reinforce her attempts.

9-12 months: Crawling and Communicating

If your little guy isn't crawling by now, he should be soon, and walking will follow shortly thereafter! Now he will be gesturing and pointing to objects he wants. Because he will copy some sounds and gestures you make, this is a great time to introduce simple gestures like waving "bye-bye." Also, he is beginning to learn object permanence, so uncovering a toy from underneath a blanket becomes a fun game for him. Fun ways to play include:

  • hiding a musical toy nearby for him to find (or uncover)
  • building short block "towers" (to knock down!)
  • setting up a simple "obstacle course" for him to crawl over and through

12-18 months: Engaging and Exploring

Your baby is now a toddler. She is exploring away from you more, walking, beginning to talk, self-feeding, and learning to drink from a cup. While she should be initiating separation from you, she still needs you to be her "home base". Encourage her to explore but be sure to welcome her back when she returns to you for reassurance. Some ways to incorporate learning into her day include:

  • offering a variety of colorful, engaging board books for her to play with
  • allowing her opportunities to feed herself (mess and all)
  • give her simple, one-step instructions to follow (and praise her efforts!)

18-24 months: "I'm a big kid now!"

As your little guy approaches 2, he is becoming more independent and active. He can recognize himself in a mirror and sort objects according to particular traits. He also is developing an understanding of himself, and will begin to communicate "yes" and "no" to you more frequently. A few ways to foster his growing independence are to:

  • have a mirror available (full length if possible) for him to check himself out
  • offer plenty of opportunities for sorting (shapes, colors, animals, textures)
  • plan for gross motor play daily (running, climbing, throwing)

The suggestions above are by no means an exhaustive list. There are many developmental milestones that our babies should reach as they grow. These are simply a few, and just a handful of ideas for reinforcing that growth.

Please know, too, that these age ranges are merely guidelines. It’s helpful to be aware of what skills your child should be developing, but remember that each child will develop at his or her own rate. If you are concerned that your little one may be behind, mention your concerns to your pediatrician or another trusted childcare specialist. It’s likely she's just taking her time. If not, sometimes a little extra attention is all she needs.

Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer Wilson is a graduate of Rhodes College and the University of Memphis. After years of teaching in early childhood education, she is now a full-time, work-at-home mother. She and her husband, Scott, have three children, ages 15, 12, and 6. She lives in Memphis, TN.