Help your baby play with purpose

The increasing mobility and growing curiosity of 6- to 12-month-old babies make this a magical time. While this means baby-proofing the home and preparing for stranger anxiety, it also means you and baby can enjoy lots of interactive play.

We talked with Marsha Baker, an occupational therapist and infant specialist at the Center for Children and Families at Erikson Institute, about simple games to help your infant develop. We also got some pointers from Sonja Coster, vice president of Child Care Services for the McGaw YMCA in Evanston and a few games from and

Though we’ve broken down activities based on age, three activities are essential for cognitive, physical and emotional development. First, talk with your baby – share nursery rhymes and sing simple songs. Second, read to your baby every day. Third, make sure babies have plenty of time to move freely on the floor.

6-8 months

Babies are truly in love with their parents and caregivers, but need them to initiate play. Try Peek-a-boo, This Little Piggy or any rhyme with gentle touches to the body. Here’s one to try while holding baby in front of a mirror. Sung to the tune of “Here we go ’round the mulberry bush”:

This is what I call my head, Call my head, call my head This is what I call my head Listen, look and see. Now I know the parts of me, Parts of me, parts of me. Now I know the parts of me, Listen, look and see

Babies love to grab and let go of objects. Fill a box with items of different textures – bumpy, soft, crinkly – that can be safely put in the mouth, too.

Use two pretend phones to have conversations with baby, speaking for a bit before pausing to wait for baby’s ‘response.’ This teaches them turn-taking and sequencing.

8-10 months

Babies start to take the initiative, using their bodies and faces to show they’re ready to play. They’ll also get more interested in playing with objects, rather than just touching them. Play together with crinkly or shredded paper or bang on pots and pans.

Babies are gaining control of their bodies and you can help with games like Pat-a-cake and So Big. Another idea:

I have 10 fingers (hold up both hands, fingers spread) And they all belong to me (point to self) I can make them do things Would you like to see?

I can shut them up tight (make fists) I can open them wide (open hands) I can put them together (place palms together) I can make them all hide (put hands behind back)

I can make them jump high (hands over head) I can make them jump low (touch floor) I can fold them up quietly (fold hands in lap) And hold them just so

Babies are beginning to understand object permanence. Hide objects (though not very well) under a blanket or napkin. Or, create soft obstacles like pillows between baby and a prized possession so they crawl toward it.

9-12 months

Babies become increasingly interested in objects, but still need emotional reassurance from their loved ones. Peek-a-boo can take on a more dramatic tone, if baby seems ready, by having the parent hide behind a pillow or a nearby wall. Use puppets-either homemade or store bought-to sing songs, tell stories and explore emotions.

Babies begin to put two objects together purposefully. Show baby how to drop things into containers, then let her try. Let her play a xylophone using different tools as drumsticks. Use everyday objects together, such as brushing hair, throwing a ball or stirring with a spoon.

One more playful rhyme:

Round and round the garden went the Teddy bear One step, two steps, tickle him under there!

Lisa Applegate is a Chicago mom and freelance writer.

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