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Baby fun and games

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How toys and games can stimulate your baby's senses and encourage development

Play isn't just about you and your baby having fun together, it is also a great way for your her to learn a lot of the basic skills she'll need as she gets older.

Here we explain how you can help your baby's development through play.

The basic skills

Play during the first few months is more about sensory exploration than physical activity. By introducing your baby to objects that she can see, hear and touch you will be helping her to become familiar with her world.

At this stage your baby doesn't really need toys as you're her best plaything. She'll have the most fun from being sung to and rocked and watching you pulling funny faces.

Later, as your baby gains control of her muscles, you will be able to introduce play that will help to develop her hand-eye co-ordination, encourage manipulative skills and teach her about cause and effect.

As her play becomes more creative she will start to use her imagination and begin to work things out for herself.

Sight

From the moment she's born your baby is capable of distinguishing between human faces and other objects.

At first your baby will be perfectly content just to watch your face and listen to your voice. It's not a coincidence that a newborn sees best when the object she's looking at is around 20-35cm (8-10ins) away – that's the distance your face is from her when she is feeding.

After a week or so, you'll find that she starts to notice bright primary colours and is attracted to the sharp contrast of black and white patterns.

She'll also enjoy watching slow moving objects if they are at the right distance. Try hanging a mobile where she can see it. A mirror attached to the side of the cot where she can watch herself will give hours of entertainment, too.

As her visual perception develops your baby will start to track objects with her eyes. Try shaking an object to attract her attention, then move it slowly from side to side so that her eyes can follow the movement.

At first she may only do this for a second or two, but as she gets older she'll be able to do this for longer and will start to track items moving in different directions.

Sounds

Your baby's hearing is quite well developed at birth so during the first few months she will spend her time learning how to locate the source of the noises she can hear. You can help by playing sound tracking games, simply shake a rattle or bell to get your baby's attention and then move it from one side to the other to see if she makes any movement towards the noise.

She won't master this skill overnight, but once she has you'll be able to use it as a basis for other games. It's important for your baby to experience lots of different sounds so play music, talk and sing to her.

Touch

Your baby will use touch just as much as her other senses to discover her world. Even at birth she will show a preference for softness against her skin.

She'll especially enjoy feeling your skin so let her explore your face and hands and touch your breast as she feeds. As she gets older she'll find toys with different textures fascinating.

When she becomes stronger and her movements are more controlled she will start to reach out for things to hold. This is how she finds out about the difference between things being light and heavy, hard and soft.

Toys

Although your baby will probably show great interest in the toys you play with together, at this stage it's because she's enjoying the play rather than the toys themselves.

Do make sure that any toys you give your baby are appropriate for her age - toys for older children may contain parts that could be dangerous, while toys that are too young will become boring.

Playing together

Even at a very young age your baby will enjoy games such as 'peek-a-boo', 'round and round the garden' and 'incy wincy spider'.

Once she's gained control of her head she'll enjoy games which involve more rough and tumble, such as being held so that she is flying through the air and jumping up and down while you hold her.

Be guided by your baby – some days she may want to play games which include a lot of interaction, on others she may be happier sitting having a cuddle while you look at a book together.

Play safe

  • Check that the area is safe before putting your baby down to play.
  • Only give her toys that are marked with ISO approved standards (International Organisation for standardisation) and bear the mark.
  • Make sure your baby's toys are suitable for her age.
  • Check the toys regularly for sharp or broken bits that could hurt your baby.
  • Never leave your baby alone with a soft toy that has a hanging loop attached. It could easily get wrapped around her finger, hand or even her neck, if the loop is large enough.
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