Play All Day: 16 Games to Play with Your Baby (Newborns to First Birthday)

We know that play is important work for babies. It helps them learn about the world and develop new cool skills, both motor skills and social ones. The best kids games are simple and silly, and chances are you have all the tools you need right at home. Here’s an age-by-age guide for the best games to play with baby during their first year.

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0-3 months

1. Imitation Game
Your face is one of baby’s favorite things to look at. Keep your face about a foot away from your newborn so they see you properly, and then stick out your tongue or form an O with your mouth. Before you know it, baby will copy you. Bonus points for silly noises to go along with the expressions.

2. Singing
Newborns might not be able to see you from across the room, but they can hear you, and they recognize your voice. Sing a lullaby or "Wheels on the Bus," belt out your favorite song, hum a commercial jingle, or make up a song about your daily activities. It doesn’t matter if you’re pitchy or out of tune, your baby’s going to love hearing your voice.

3. Flashcards
While babies aren't ready for those math or reading cards yet, simple images from cards or books get their attention. Black and white images, simple patterns and bright colors are easiest for them to see at this age. They also love images of other babies. All you have to do is hold up the card, point at the picture, and talk about the image. Or put it down in front of them to explore during tummy time.

4. Hanging Toys
Your little one might not be reaching out for toys yet, but they love looking at them. Hang a mobile above the crib or find an activity gym with hanging toys and lay baby on their back to enjoy. Baby-safe mirrors are great, too. Babies won’t know it’s their face, but that won’t dampen their enthusiasm for staring at it.

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4-6 months

5. Interactive Stories
Your little one is a bit more responsive at this age. Change up those simple activities for slightly more interactive ones. Now’s a great time to introduce games like “This Little Piggy.” They don't require independent movement from baby, but kids find the movements and story super fun.

6. Moving Tummy Time
Put tummy time in motion to mix things up. Once your baby has pretty good head control, lay them on their stomach on a small blanket. Then slowly pull them around the room. Make motor or train noises for even more silly fun.

7. Blowing Bubbles
You don't need to wait until baby’s old enough to chase after bubbles to introduce then. At this age, they're starting to see better, so they will be fascinated with the moving rainbows of bubbles. Blow near them but not on them to keep the soap out of their eyes. 

8. How Big Is Baby?
It’s amazing how fast those early months fly by. Your six-month-old will seem huge in comparison with how little they were just a few months ago, making the classic “How Big Is Baby?” game all the more poignant. To play, hold baby’s hands and ask in a sweet voice, “How big is baby?” Then put their hands up over their head and say, “So big!” Mix it up by replacing "big" with different adjectivessmart, sweet, etc.

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7-9 months

9. Patty Cake
You don’t need to retire those less-interactive songs from the newborn stage, but continue to up the game with songs that have motions and finger play to go along with them. Start by showing the motions to songs like “Patty Cake,” “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels on the Bus.” You can also help them do the motions with their hands.

10. Peekaboo
By now your baby is beginning to have an understanding of object permanence, knowing that when things are out of sight, they aren’t gone forever. If your little one hasn’t already discovered the joy that is peekaboo, now’s the time to try it out. Hide your face behind your hands, hide baby's face behind your hands, or pop out from behind a door or curtain. You can also try hiding or partially hiding objects (like putting a musical toy under a blanket) to see if your child will look for them. 

11. Flying Baby
At this age, baby should have enough control and strength for some flying time on your knees. Lay on your back or slightly propped up on a pillow. Use your bent legs to support your baby's body, hold their hands, and gently fly them around. You can go up and down, side-to-side or a combination of the two. Sound effects and silly songs go along great with this physical activity.

12. Roll the Ball
Once your child is able to sit, sit across from them and roll a ball toward them. At first, baby probably won’t roll it back, but they might pick it up and play with it or chew on it. When they lose interest in the ball, roll it back to start the game over. Eventually, they'll be rolling it back to you!

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10-12 months

13. Sensory Boxes
Nothing is more fun for your older baby than taking things out of a box and putting them back in. Fill a box or bin with a combination of balls, soft blocks, small books, scarves or baby-safe household items like a wooden spatula. Look for objects that have different textures and are big enough not to be choking hazards. Show your child how to take things out of the box and put them back in. It won’t be long before they're dumping out and rearranging every box they can get their hands on.

14. Obstacle Course
Chances are your little explorer is on the move, or ready to be soon. Whether scooting, crawling, walking or full-on climbing, a pillow obstacle course will prove to be a good energy burner. Set out couch cushions or pillows all around the floor. Demonstrate how to climb over, around or peek under them.

15. Dance Time
There are so many ways to enjoy dance time with baby. You don’t have to use baby music; play your favorite tunes if you’d like. Sit on the floor with baby and bop your head and body or pretend to play an instrument. Baby might not be ready for air guitar yet, but it won’t take much prompting to get them bopping along to the beat. You can also hold baby in your arms and spin in slow circles or sway back and forth. Or sit them in your lap and bounce them on your knees.

16. Stack It Up
Stacking cups, stacking rings and blocks are a favorite for your almost one-year-old. But you don’t have to limit it to toys that are designed to stack. Any items that can be put on top of one another and knocked back down without breaking are fair game. Try plastic storage containers, empty yogurt containers, or small boxes and bring in your little destructor to knock them down.

—Katie Carroll


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