There are lots of developmental milestones to hit in a baby’s first year. Although babies develop at their own pace, simple activities that you do on a daily basis can have a big impact on your child’s development.
Fun activities that encourage physical development are the perfect way to engage your child and improve your bond. All physical activity builds gross or fine motor skills (or both!). Here are some activities that you can try today with your baby.
Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills involve large muscle groups such as your core, arms and legs. Examples of gross motor skills include sitting, standing, walking, running and jumping.
Play activities that encourage your child to move their whole body in different ways will build these large muscles best.
The earliest exercise to improve gross motor development is tummy time.
Tummy time involves placing a baby on their stomach to play. This should be for around 3-4 minutes, 3-4 times per day.
Tummy time helps to improve head control and develop the big muscles on the sides of their neck. A baby’s head is extremely heavy compared to their overall body weight and the development of these muscles is crucial. It’s an important precursor to sitting up and learning to crawl.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies begin tummy time from the day they come home from the hospital.
Not all babies enjoy tummy time, however, there are several different things you can try to keep your baby happy. These are:
- Interaction with you. Your baby will be more inclined to stay on the floor if you get down there with them. Lie on your belly too and get your face nice and close to your baby’s. If you have other children this is a perfect way to integrate them into playing with their new sibling
- Baby safe mirrors provide great stimulation and your baby will love looking at both themselves and you in the mirror
- Add toys to stop your baby getting bored. Spread them out in a semi circle around your baby so they can easily reach them.
If your baby is still resisting tummy time try lying on your back and do tummy time on your own tummy.
Creating an obstacle course is a fun way to help your baby’s gross motor skill development. Once your baby starts crawling the fun can begin.
I recommend initially starting soft and small. You can lay pillows on the floor for your baby to crawl over.
Try propping pillows up in a triangle to create a soft den your baby can hide in. Perfect for a game of peekaboo.
As your child’s ability increases these obstacles can become more complicated.
Once they have mastered crawling and walking over pillows try to incorporate balancing games into the course. If you place a large cushion over a small one it will create a soft balancing platform for your baby to climb over.
Bean bags can also be a fun addition to obstacle courses. Older toddlers will enjoy this game as well.
Obstacle courses always need a parent’s watchful eye to ensure safety, and your baby will love the interaction and attention from you.
Babies love to be involved in everything you do. Chances are your little one has seen you lugging the laundry basket around and will be fascinated to get their hands on it.
Climbing in and out of the laundry basket is a great activity as it engages all the large muscle groups. Either turn it into a game by itself or incorporate it into your washing routine.
Can your baby sit in the basket and pass you clean clothes to sort? Or will you create a den in the lounge with the laundry basket and pillows?
Take your baby to the local park and have fun with the playground equipment. Even from a young age, they will enjoy a gentle push on the swing set and it’s a great way to get those baby’s legs kicking!
Older babies may enjoy trying out some of the big kid’s playground equipment too, with supervision of course. Try and go during a quieter time such as within school hours so you don’t have to worry about older children playing nearby.
Your baby won’t be able to use all the equipment properly yet, but they will enjoy trying out some different activities.
If your baby is able to maintain a standing position, or walk holding onto furniture try holding their hands and getting them to walk in the park.
The uneven terrain of grass provides different muscle stimulation and is a good way to practice balancing and moving around. Small hills are also ideal for this.
Free movement is vital for gross motor skills development as it involves the whole body and stimulates your babies nervous system.
Even from a month old your baby should spend time on the floor moving freely.
Expert advice is to limit the use of bouncer and walkers as they can delay development and focus on free movement instead
Simple games such as peek-a-boo can encourage lots of movement in young babies.
For crawlers try a game of chase, or scatter their favorite toys around the room and encourage them to find them.
House And Yard Work
Housework is a great gross motor activity and it will be much easier to have baby help you than to try and cram in every chore while they are sleeping.
Sweeping and mopping the floor require whole body movement and attention. Your baby’s “sweeping” will probably look a lot more like dragging a brush across the floor than actual productive tidying, but this also lays the foundation for vital life skills later down the road.
Sweep along with your baby and they will love copying you.
Cleaning up is also a good time to get babies involved in housework. Bending, stretching and squatting to pick up toys will all help improve your babies physical skills and is a great habit to get into.
Try to encourage your baby to help you tidy away toys at least once a day so it becomes a familiar routine. Older babies love putting objects inside boxes and bags so this will really appeal to them.
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor activities involve moving small muscles to perform precise actions. Examples of fine motor skills would be picking up a small object, threading beads, transferring a small toy from one hand to the other.
As your child gets older these fine motor skills evolve into tying shoelaces, grasping a pen, using cooking utensils.
Playing with cups is a simple way to improve hand-eye coordination. Plastic cups such as these are great for stacking and can also be used for water play as well.
Even from a few months of age, your baby will be fascinated with flowing water.
These cups can be used in the bath to pour water over your baby, and as your child’s fine motor skills improve they will be able to use the cups to pour water themselves.
Hide And Seek
This builds on a game of peekaboo.
Take a thin blanket or muslin and first hide behind it, then pop back into view and say “peekaboo!”
Once you have done this a few times and got your babies attention, place the muslin over a favorite toy. Pull the muslin off the toy and say “peekaboo.”
Your baby will be delighted at the transfer of a familiar game to a new setting.
Practice this a few times before leaving the muslin draped over the toy and asking your child to find it.
Eventually they will try to take the muslin off themselves. Give lots of praise when this happens and say “peekaboo” so they know they are playing the game correctly.
Once you have established this as a game you can move onto thicker blankets that are not see-through.
Once again place toys under the blanket and ask your child to find them.
The beauty of this game is it only requires an object and a cover. It’s easily transferred out of the house and can be used in places like the car or doctors waiting room to keep your little one amused.
Pom poms are great for sensory play and building fine motor skills.
Grasping the Pom Pom, examining it and transferring it from hand to hand are all fine motor skills.
Pom Poms are also good for early games of catch when your baby’s hand may not have the dexterity and strength to grasp a ball.
Your baby will love picking up and dropping the Pom Poms as they experiment with their environment. Catch the Pom before it hits the ground and then drop it into your baby’s lap for a little game of catch.
Always supervise your child closely with Pom Poms as babies love to put objects in their mouths and they could pose a choking hazard.
Building blocks games not only improve motor control, they can also help with social skills as well.
Try building a small tower of blocks for your baby and then gently knocking them down. The first time they may be a little surprised, so they make a positive sounding noise like “crasssh” or “whoosh” so they know it’s a game.
Repeat this a few times and your baby will soon be trying to knock down the tower themselves.
Stretching fingers and pushing light weights target smaller muscles.
In time your baby will start to grasp the blocks and explore their texture.
Once your baby is comfortable with this game you can start building larger towers. This starts to introduce the concept of delayed gratification as your baby must wait longer for you to build a bigger tower to get that big crash.
Delayed gratification is a complex social skill, so don’t worry if your baby takes a lot of time to understand it. You will probably need to build big towers while your baby is distracted and then invite them over to knock it down.
Arts and crafts are great with any age group. Read here for how to make edible paint for babies.
Messy play is fabulous for stimulating your child’s creativity, improving concentration, and practicing hand-eye coordination.
In good weather, messy play can be moved outside to minimize clean-up. If you’re worried about messy play ruining your house why not try in the bathtub?
Light balls of different sizes and colors are good for improving hand-eye coordination.
Switching between a small and large ball causes your baby’s hand to stretch and grasp, building up all those fine muscles in the fingers.
Babies will also enjoy watching you roll balls around, and may even try this themselves.
Try sitting opposite your baby and rolling a ball into their lap. With some encouragement, you may be able to get them to roll it back and start a little back and forth game.
Older babies will enjoy dropping balls into boxes and swirling them around with their hands. A large saucepan also works really well for this game.
Which games will you try today? Let me know in the comments