Great parenting begins at birth. It starts with the basics of feeding, diapering and loving babies and extends into playing games for brain development, sensory integration, intelligence, language acquisition, fine and gross motor skills, and total body coordination.

How do enthusiastic yet sometimes exhausted parents achieve such feats when newborns sleep a majority of their days? The trick is to capture a few golden minutes of baby being alert each day and use them to play fun and short games. A baby’s mind and body are like sponges just waiting to absorb input from the five senses, and it’s up to parents to make that happen.

Babies are born with all of the brain cells they need in a lifetime. However, the cells are not yet linked to each other with the connections required for functioning. With a little time and plenty of game play, infants can start building those neural networks to provide a foundation for thinking, feeling, moving and exploring their environments.

During baby’s first year, parents should focus on tummy-time activities; head, neck and torso strength; fine and gross motor skills; finger dexterity and hand grasping; visual abilities; language acquisition; midline crossing games and cross-crawl movements. Before you begin baby playtime, here are a few tips for a successful experience.

  • Realize that timing is everything. A happy, healthy, well-rested, recently fed and dry-diapered baby is most receptive to play.
  • Create a comfortable environment. Place baby on a warm soft surface with gentle classical music playing in the background.
  • Maintain the magic touch. Stay in physical contact with your child as a form of love and reassurance when you play games.

Top Five Baby Games in the First Year

1. Eye Catchers: Beads and Baubles

Object: To improve fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, eye tracking, hand grasping, midline crossing, attention span, auditory processing, language acquisition, spatial awareness, depth perception and brain stimulation.

Supplies: Dangling colorful beads or a shiny necklace.

Rules of Play: Place your baby on his or her back, facing up. Hold the dangling beads or necklace at your child’s eye level and move it sideways, high, low and in a circular motion. Allow your baby time to follow the hanging object with his or her eyes, and occasionally lower it into grasping range. For midline crossing, encourage your baby to reach across the body and grasp the toy with the opposite hand.

2. Chasing Reflections

Object: To improve gross motor skills, tummy-time play, eye-hand and eye-foot coordination, crawling movements, midline crossing, bilateral limb use, shoulder strength, visual stimulation, cognitive development and facial recognition.

Supplies: A large child-safe mirror.

Rules of Play: Place your baby on the floor in a crawling position and hold a mirror at floor level about one foot in front of your child’s line of vision. Move the mirror forward, inch by inch, and encourage your baby to crawl toward it. After a few strides, allow your child to reach the mirror, and then start again.

3. Shake, Rattle and Roll

Object: To develop fine and gross motor coordination, eye-hand and hand-grasping skills, arm and shoulder range of motion, bilateral limb use, midline crossing, auditory processing, visual acuity and brain stimulation.  

Supplies: Two toy rattles and lively music.

Rules of Play: Your baby is in an independent sitting position or a safety seat. Give your child a rattle for each hand— and let the magic happen.

4. Sideways Rolls

Object: To develop gross motor skills; torso, back and shoulder strength; and side-to-side muscle control that leads to rolling from front to back or back to front.  

Supplies: None needed.

Rules of Play: Place your alert infant on his or her back on a safe flat surface. Kneel in front of your child. Gently hold your baby at his or her sides using your arms, forearms and hands. Now gently roll your child to his or her tummy. Try to prop your baby on his or her forearms and hands. Repeat the action back to front and front to back several times.

5. Pillow Crawl

Object: To improve gross motor skills, eye-hand and eye-foot coordination, cross crawling, balance, core strength, arm and leg flexibility, quickness, spatial awareness, depth perception and visual and brain development.

Supplies: Sofa cushions, pillows of all shapes and sizes, and rolled-up towels.

Rules of Play: Place your baby on the floor in a crawling position. Place a small pillow or cylindrical-shaped towel roll under his or her tummy. Encourage your baby to crawl over the cushion leading with the hands. The knees and feet will follow.

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