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This collection of activities is perfect for children as young as six months and can be implemented for children up to ages two or three. Upon introducing a new game or activity, follow your child's lead. Only continue the activity if your child seems excited and entertained. Otherwise, try another activity or give your child some quiet time until he seems ready for more. Pay attention to how your child reacts to certain activities. You will soon discover which games your baby prefers to play with you.
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Activities for Babies
Many babies absolutely love music. Try turning on your favorite music and dancing with your baby, holding him in your arms or in a sling. Sing songs to your baby – everything from, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider" to “I’m Proud to Be an American." Although lullabies work well for bedtime routines, babies enjoy more active songs as well. Don’t turn up the volume of the music too much though, or your baby might protest the loudness.
Think you’re the only one who needs to exercise? Although your baby will get plenty of exercise later on – crawling and climbing on everything – at this point, helping your baby “exercise" is a great way to play with her. Try stretching out her arms and crossing them in front of her in a hugging position. Repeat several times, singing “Out and in, out and in" in a singsong voice. Then push her legs gently so that they’re curled up to her chest, and then let them go. Many infants enjoy having their arms and legs stretched, especially since they can’t consciously do it themselves.
Toys – How to Use Them
Baby toys are great ways to keep your infant happy, but they can be overused. Throwing a toy into your baby’s infant seat every time she cries may keep her happy for a bit, but what she really needs is your attention. Use her toys to play with her instead. Shake a rattle on one side of her head, and see if she can turn her head to find it. Hold her hand and help her to stroke a soft stuffed animal or to squeeze part of a toy to make a crinkling noise. As she gets a bit older, take two of her small toys and have them “talk" to each other and act something out. Even infants will enjoy watching this – and it’s a lot more interactive than watching a cartoon!
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Simple & Creative Ideas
Unwrap the Fun!
If you’ve ever been to a one-year-old’s birthday party, you know that kids often love wrapping paper even more than they love gifts. Create your own wrapping paper party by using old newspapers to wrap up familiar objects from around the house – such as the baby’s bowl, a toy car, a stuffed animal, and a set of keys. See how long it takes your child to figure out how to get to the object. For toddlers, have them feel the object through the wrapping to guess what it is.
When your child is an infant, lie her on a soft blanket and gently drag the blanket across the floor. She might react to the change in gravity and to the unfamiliar movement by looking around to see what is happening. As she becomes older, give her rides on the blanket, pretending to be a horse as you do so. Young toddlers can pull their own stuffed animals behind them as well.
Once infants are grasping well, challenge them by sticking several small pieces of masking tape to their fingers. As babies become used to this feeling, tape a piece of contact paper to the table, sticky-side up. Encourage them to play with the sticky side of the paper. Give older toddlers pieces of tissue paper or other objects that will cling to the contact paper, and talk about what they are doing.
Does your child seem to love the bubbles in the bath? Try filling up a large pot with soap and water to create a huge pile of bubbles. Bring the pot outside, and encourage your child to play with the bubbles, while talking about what he is doing. As he grows older, bring a mirror outside so that he can see the bubbles on top of his head, too! This activity makes your child feel like he's doing a messy activity, whereas he'll be cleaner than ever when he's finished.
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Cause and Effect Mobile
Do you have a simple mobile hanging over your infant’s crib? Although she may enjoy watching it, she can learn a lot more if she can actually control it. Tie a string loosely to your baby’s foot, and tie the other end to part of the mobile. When your baby kicks, she’ll see the mobile move. This will help to plant the seeds in her brain of the concept of cause and effect. In fact, you’ll probably see her kick more often once she realizes that she can make the mobile move on her own. (Safety note: Always supervise your child during this activity, as strings can pose a strangulation risk.)
Body Parts Game
Lie your child on a soft surface, such as a bed or carpet. Lean over him and chant, “Mommy has a nose, Sammy has a nose," as you touch first your nose, and then his. Repeat with other facial features and simple body parts (fingers, hands, head). This activity can start to teach your child that his body is made up of several parts, and that his body is similar to other people’s bodies. It can also be a great bonding experience for the two of you, as you smile at him and touch him.
If you stick your tongue out at your baby, does she stick her tongue back? If so, this learning game might be the perfect activity for her. Try making funny faces, such as opening your mouth very wide, blowing up your cheeks, or blinking very quickly. If your baby imitates your motions, applaud her actions. Children who imitate facial expressions well may have an easier time later on learning to form various sounds with their mouths. After all, if she can imitate your funny faces, she’ll likely try to imitate your mouth’s speaking motions as well.
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Fun & Active
Dance to the Music
All infants and toddlers seem to love music. Put some on and dance with them! Even the youngest infant will enjoy swinging around in your arms. Toddlers may dance themselves or play “follow the leader" to the beat of the music.
The Sled of All Seasons
Who says that sleds are only usable in the wintertime? Place your child on the sled, indoors or outdoors, and pull her along behind you. If your sled does not come with an attached rope, attach it yourself by making a small hole in the front of the sled and threading the rope through it. For older toddlers, pretend that you are a horse pulling a sleigh. If your child can walk, you may even want to encourage him to pile some dolls or stuffed animals in the sled and pull it himself.
Through the Tunnel
The next time you unpack a large cardboard box, save it and cut off the flaps at each end. Set up the box in the middle of a large room and place your child at the opening of one end of the box. Go around and crouch at the opposite opening so that your child can see you through the “tunnel." Encourage your child to crawl toward you, or toward some toys placed in the middle of the tunnel.
First One to the Top Wins!
Do you have small figures or dolls that you bought for your infant or toddler? Although she may not be old enough to play with them herself yet, she can enjoy becoming part of a game with them. Pick up two small toys and have them talk to each other – one in a high-pitched voice, and one in a low-pitched voice. They can ask each other questions like “What should we do today?" and “Can you climb all the way up Mount Amanda?" Have one of them take the dare and climb up your toddler – all the way up to her head. Have the character shout “Yeah! I made it!" and then “One…two…three…whee!" and slide the character down from your toddler’s head.
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Appropriate for One Year Olds
Find some small blocks or other toys of similar sizes. Cut a hole in the top of a shoebox that’s slightly bigger than the toys. Show your young toddler how to stick the toy through the hole, and then help him find where it went by taking off the lid! You’ll be surprised how excited your toddler will be when he succeeds in fitting the toy through the hole, as well as when he figures out how to find where the toy went.
On a warm day, try taking several large plastic containers outside. Be original, you can use an old infant bathtub, a bucket, a pail, or even a large cooking pot. Fill them with water from the hose, and give your young toddler small containers of different shapes and sizes, such as plastic cups, plastic bowls, and Tupperware containers. Show your child how to use the small containers to pour the water from one large container to another. At the end of the game, let your child dump all of the large containers into a gutter or another safe area.
Feel like you never have time to do the laundry with your young toddler underfoot? Try making him a part of the action. Bring out a laundry basket full of clothes from the dryer and set it on the clean floor or carpet. Then ask your toddler, “Can you please give me some clothes from the basket?" Help him follow your instructions the first time, and you’ll find yourself rushing to fold the clothing fast enough to catch up with his offers of more clothing! Name each piece of clothing as you fold it to increase your young toddler’s vocabulary.
Fill ’Er Up!
Young toddlers are just starting to be able to identify common objects, such as toys. Once you see that he can identify several toys, set a large paper bag on the floor, and ask him to get one of the toys and put it in the bag. At first, you may need to split your instructions into two requests: “Can you get me the ball?" “Can you put it in the bag?" But soon, your toddler will be running to add more objects to the bag. At the end, ask, “Can you dump the bag?" Your toddler will be quick to comply, especially after you show him what the word “dump" means.
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Shaving Cream Fun
It’s creamy, light, and easy to manipulate. Shaving cream is a messy toddler’s best friend! Spray a pile of shaving cream on a flat surface and show your toddler how to spread it around. You can even let him walk or drive his toys through the pile or around it. If you’re truly interested in creating a mess, try undressing your toddler down to his diaper and letting him smear the shaving cream all over his hair and body. (Just make sure he keeps it away from his eyes and mouth!)
The number one way toddlers love to get messy is by finger painting! Buy a nontoxic brand of fingerpaint and give your toddler a safe surface (such as a large piece of butcher paper) to experiment with. You can also show your toddler how to make prints with various objects around the house, such as sponges, toys, old toothbrushes, or cut up apples.
What kid does not like to play in the dirt? Build on this interest by helping your child create mud pies in your backyard. Add some water to an area with loose dirt, and bring out some of your old cooking utensils. Show your toddler how to mix the mud, put it into a bowl, or bake it in an “oven" (perhaps under a tree, or on a rock). Ask your toddler to serve you some of his mud pie when she’s done, and tell her how delicious it tastes!
Another way to encourage your child to play in the dirt is to give him his own area of the yard as his own “garden." You can teach him how to plant seeds (apple and orange seeds work well, although they won’t bloom) and water them. Or you can just let him go to work with his shovel and pail “gardening."