These fun development-boosting infant activities will keep little ones entertained while also boosting crucial developmental skills.
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*These activities should be closely supervised by an adult at all times.
Babies should have exposure to play and exploration in a variety of different positions beginning from the time they first come home from the hospital. Play and movement in different positions helps to build strength and coordination, integrate primitive reflexes, and provide important input to the sensory systems.
As moms, we know that it can be hard to come up with infant activities to keep little ones entertained (not to mention the grownups who are taking care of them!). But as pediatric therapists, we know how important it is to engage babies in hands-on, movement-based, and sensory-based play activities. From rolling to crawling to sitting to standing and walking, here are a few of our favorite play ideas that support a variety of developmental skills for babies during that first year.
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Infant Activities: 0-3 Months
For the youngest babies, the very best place to get experience with motor skills and sensory input is on the floor. Providing sensory experiences for the baby and moving/positioning her in different ways helps to build important neural pathways that lead to healthy development.
1 || Tummy time
Tummy time is one of the most important infant activities, beginning when they first come home from the hospital. During tummy time, babies get the benefit of important sensory input along with movement experiences that lead to strengthening, hand eye coordination, and more! Check out some of our favorite tummy time toys that can help make the experience more comfortable and entertaining.
2 || Carrying and wearing
Babywearing isn’t just great for keeping your hands free – it is also a great way to provide vestibular, tactile, and other important sensory input. Babies also get to experiment with holding their heads up in this vertical position – but with close support and supervision.
And, even though it might not seem like a real “activity”, simply carrying an infant in a variety of positions provides beneficial sensory input while also allowing for elongation and strengthening of the muscles of the neck, back, and core.
3 || Rocking and swaying
This is an infant activity that most caregivers do instinctively, but – as with carrying and wearing a baby – rocking and swaying with an infant has more benefits than meets the eye! Rocking in a rocking chair or holding your infant while bouncing gently on an exercise ball is another great way to provide calming vestibular input for little ones, input that helps them learn about where their body is in space. Pair rocking and swaying with a song, and you’ll add the benefit of auditory input as well.
4 || Music and singing
Speaking of songs, singing to babies and playing music is great not only for calming and comforting, but also to help a baby discriminate between auditory input (e.g. telling the difference between mom’s familiar voice and someone singing on the radio). Music can also be a great distraction during tummy time or to begin to encourage a baby to turn his head from one side to the other. These baby action songs are perfect options for mixing music with movement!
5 || Simple toys
At this stage (and really at any stage), fancy toys aren’t necessary. Simple rattles, easy-to-grasp balls, and soft books are great for getting a baby’s visual attention and, as time goes on, her gaze will follow her grasp and she’ll want to look at what she’s holding – the beginning of eye hand coordination. Play mats with arches and dangling toys to look at are great play options too for this age.
6 || Bath and lotion/massage
Bath time is one of the most fun and memorable infant activities. And the gentle touch of a washcloth or your hands with baby lotion also offers calming tactile input that can help a baby develop his ability to process touch in a healthy way.
7 || Floor time outside of a carrier, stroller, or swing
To reiterate, one of the absolute most important developmental experiences we can offer to babies at this age is plenty of time on the floor – on their tummies, on their backs, on their sides. It seems like such a simple thing, but babies get so much of the movement and sensory input they need when they’re allowed the time and opportunity to explore how their bodies work outside of a carrier, stroller, or swing!
Infant Activities: 3-6 Months
As babies become more alert and engaged, there are all kinds of new movement and play activities to try! At this stage, babies become a little more sturdy too, so you can begin to play in ways that will encourage rolling and head control.
8 || Songs and finger plays
Old favorites like The Itsy Bitsy Spider, 5 Little Monkeys, and The Wheels on the Bus are great ways to get a baby’s visual attention during tummy time and play on the floor.
9 || Rocking and rolling
During diaper changes and playtime on the floor, gently rocking your baby from side to side from her shoulders and then from her legs is a great way to help her learn how to feel and use the different segments of her body to move and start to roll. Once your baby is comfortable with this kind of movement and is beginning to initiate some of the movement on her own, you can also assist her in rolling from her back to her tummy (helping her support her head and neck if needed).
10 || Foot rattles
Placing toys like these foot finders on a baby’s feet is great for encouraging him to get those feet and legs up into the air, where he’ll begin using them to rock his body from side to side.
11 || Books
Books are another good way to support interaction and visual engagement during tummy time, while baby is lying on his back, or just while you’re holding your little one in your lap.
12 || Upright play/supported sitting
It’s important to be patient and wait for your baby to show signs of readiness before trying to sit her up on her own. Play on the floor in tummy time and on her back are the best ways to get there. But it’s also great to provide infants with the experience of being upright, whether it’s bouncing on your knees, in a wrap or other carrier, or just holding and carrying her in an upright position.
13 || Slide and ride
Try making a little “ride” for your baby. Fold a blanket up to make a padded surface and then slowly and gently pull her around on a smooth floor surface. For older babies who are very sturdy sitters, you can try this activity in a seated position (with very close supervision).
Infant Activities: 6-12 Months
To encourage babies to learn how to start sitting up on their own, there are lots of fun and easy play ideas you can try.
14 || Seated bouncing and swaying
Try sitting your baby on your lap, supporting him at the trunk. Play with bouncing both of your knees at once, helping the baby keep his balance. Then try lifting one heel at a time, so the baby bounces/leans from side to side. Try swaying the knees from side to side.
15 || Play on an exercise ball
With very heavy hands on support, try sitting the baby on an exercise or therapy ball. Stabilize him carefully at the trunk and gently bounce, rock side to side, and rock back and forth. If baby isn’t ready for this quite yet, have him seated on your lap while you bounce and sway on the ball.
16 || Cardboard box hideout
With close supervision, practicing sitting in a cardboard box or laundry basket is a great way to build confidence and security in this new position. Pad the box or basket with a cushion or folded up towels and add some toys for entertainment.
17 || Bean bag balance
This infant activity is also a favorite for toddlers, and even older kids too! In sitting, place a bean bag on the child’s head and show her how to lean her head forward to dump it off into her hands, lap, or a plastic container.
18 || Pre-crawling practice
When your baby is just showing signs of learning to crawl, sit on the floor with your legs outstretched. Place a toy on or between your feet and place your baby on her tummy on your legs facing the toy. Gently move your legs, rocking baby from side to side or bouncing both legs together. With her arms and legs draped over your legs toward the floor, she’ll begin to get a sense of play in an all fours position without having to take all of her weight by herself.
Crawling Activities for Babies
Once baby is an official crawler there are even more fun activities you can try:
19 || Tunnel play
Playing with a tunnel is always a big hit when it comes to infant activities. Place pillows inside to crawl over, place toys inside to retrieve, drive cars/trucks through, roll a ball through. Fabric tunnels are available commercially or you can create your own tunnel by cutting cardboard boxes and placing them together or using couch cushions to create a little bridge.
20 || Crawl up and down a hill
21 || Crawling obstacle course
Place pillows or cushions around the floor for your baby to crawl over.
22 || Chasing play
Encourage baby to crawl by chasing a ball or other rolling object (e.g. empty coffee can) or chasing after bubbles.
23 || Car wash
Make a crawl-through “car wash” by hanging ribbons with heavy duty tape on the edge of a coffee table or other opening for baby to crawl through. *Always supervise closely and make sure ribbons are not left out after playing!
24 || Textured crawling practice
Have your baby try crawling across bubble wrap or other textures that are taped to the floor – you can even make your own textured squares out of different craft paper and fabrics.
25 || Crawling bean bag balance
Try the bean bag balance from above in a different way – place the bean bag on the child’s back and see if she can balance it there while crawling.
26 || Outdoor crawling practice
Don’t be afraid of going outside! Crawling on grass is great practice with a soft landing and provides the opportunity for some great tactile input too.
Standing and Walking Activities for Babies
Once your baby is ready to start getting up on those feet, you can encourage pulling up to stand, maintaining a standing position, and beginning to learn to walk with these fun activities:
27 || Standing reach and step
Try putting safe but “off limits” objects on higher surfaces like the couch or coffee table (e.g. phone, remote control, old computer keyboard) – or just use favorite toys. This is great encouragement and motivation for baby to move from sitting to squatting to standing. Gradually start placing objects along the length of a couch or coffee table to entice baby to start cruising along furniture.
28 || Activity cube or activity table
29 || Push toys
Push toys are great for practicing balance and the ability to alternate feet for stepping forward. You can also weigh down a laundry basket with a stack of books and let baby push it around the floor!
30 || Movement songs
Movement songs are also great for encouraging longer periods of standing. Try Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes or If You’re Happy and You Know It – helping baby perform the movements or touch corresponding body parts along with the song.
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