While play is fun for all of us, no matter how old you are, it's especially important for babies. On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Jennifer Arnold, M.D., a neonatologist and the medical director for the Center for Medical Simulation and Innovative Education at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, discusses the benefits of playing with your baby.
Studies have shown that parents who play with their baby can help promote their cognitive development, and as they get older, the children will do better with language and math skills. Play also helps promote physical development.
Play will help babies develop their fine and gross motor skills. From an emotional development perspective, more play has been shown to help babies learn to cope with stress and develop their emotional intelligence, resiliency and social skills. All those things are important for our babies and then our kids, and in the end, for those of us as adults. So the benefits of play are tremendous.
Tell us about the four categories of play.
Toys and Object Play
Safety comes first, so we want to make sure toys are appropriate for the baby's age. The opportunity to engage with different objects of different shapes and textures can help babies conduct experiments, and like scientists, they will begin to learn from their environment about things they touch and feel.
This supports physical development and muscle strength, tummy time and the ability to reach and grab things, anything that supports physical development games like peek-a-boo is good.
You can help your baby as young as a newborn experience the outdoor world. Being outdoors will give your baby an opportunity to build their senses and learn spacial awareness.
As a younger baby, it will not include things like "dress-up" or playing imaginary roles, but it's more about playing games, making faces and being silly.
In addition to ways to play with your baby, since you're not always going to be with your baby, look for a caregiver, day care or preschool that offers opportunities for play. Ask them, "How do you promote play when you are with my child?" Identify those opportunities even when you're not with your baby or child.
Age Specific Play Ideas for Parents
Birth to 6 Months — Responding to smiles is a key part of playing. Also toys that are simple and safe, move things around and give them different things to see.
7-13 Months — Babies are starting to crawl and walk. Make a play space that they can touch things and move around to see different things. They will get excited about the things they see and toys that move. Skill building is really key. Even using a mirror helps babies understand their own facial expressions and practice silly faces. Provide opportunities for them to move around safely.
On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories each Monday for the latest report. You also can explore more advice from Jen Arnold, M.D., and advice for parents of infants and toddlers.