newborn playing in aden + anais activity gym

A typical day with a new baby includes eating, sleeping, and a lot of dirty diapers. But what are other things to do with a newborn? It is never too early to start developmental activities.

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This is easily done during baby playtime. For infants 0-6 months, physical growth can be most noticeable, but emotional, social, and cognitive growth is also happening. Play is so essential to development that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has recognized it as a right of every child.

Some key developmental milestones playtime can help babies achieve include:

• Enjoying face-to-face interactions with people

• Cooing in response to playfulness

• Noticing and responding to sounds

But many parents struggle with figuring out how to achieve these through play with a newborn. Especially at such a young age, they are unable to do “typical” activities such as legos or make believe. However, there are still plenty of things to do! Here are some ideas to get you and your little one started.

social-emotional activities for infants

dad showing affection to his baby girldad showing affection to his baby girl

social-emotional activities for infants

As children get older, social-emotional skills help them navigate their feelings, how to express those feelings, relationships with family and friends, and working or playing with others. These skills are naturally learned, but parents can support their development with certain activities for babies.

Social development activities for infants encourage positive interactions with others while they work on managing their own emotions. Developmental activities that do this include:

Peek-a-boo. This classic game is actually one of the best activities for babies 0-6 months. It helps them to develop a bond with their caregiver as they start to engage in laughter and social smiling. They are starting to express their delight and enjoyment.

Show regular affection. While not a specific game or activity, this is one of the best things to do with a newborn to encourage their social-emotional development. We suggest providing them with consistent contact and affection. While they’re laying on their back, give them kisses, tickle their toes, smile, and tell them “I love you.” This helps reinforce to your baby that they are loved and protected. When your affection elicits a positive reaction, such as a smile, do it again!

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These activities for newborns are easily implemented during playtime or just throughout the day. They can be done while you or someone else is holding your child, when they’re lying on their back or stomach, or in a bouncy chair, crib, etc. Social and emotional development encourages the following baby milestones to look for:

• Moving legs and arms off of surface when excited

• Being calmed with rocking, touching, and gentle sounds

• Responding to the sound of a caregiver’s voice (smiling, quieting, etc.)

• Crying for different needs (such as hungry or tired)

• Social smiling and cooing

• Making eye contact

• Showing interest in faces

cognitive development activities for infants

This type of development focuses on how a baby’s intellect grows, including their thinking and problem-solving skills. If you’re wondering how to stimulate baby brain development, here are some cognitive development activities for newborns that can be done during playtime:

• Peek-a-boo (yes, again!). As far as developmental activities for infants go, this game is perfect for giving your infant’s brain a boost. Playing peek-a-boo helps your child develop object permanence (or their understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot directly be seen) while strengthening their visual tracking.

• Read a book. In fact, read all the books! Reading has been proven time and time again to promote a child’s thought development. When you’re wondering how to entertain a newborn, a book with bold colors that is either cloth or a hardback is an excellent activity. As children get older, incorporating books that encourage them to press buttons and touch different textures helps to further encourage cognitive development.

• Rattles and noisemakers. Baby playtime isn’t meant to be quiet, so now is the time to get out the rattles and other noisemakers. While they may not look like much fun to adults, rattles stimulate a baby’s brain in all sorts of ways. The combination of sight and texture help to develop a child’s perception, which helps them make sense of the world. Plus, it helps them learn cause and effect (if they shake the rattle, a noise will be made). It’s easy to use these in a variety of activities for babies: in the car, being held, bath time, tummy time, or lying on a playmat.

You’ll be able to see the rapid cognitive developing in your child when they hit the following milestones:

• Visually tracking a moving toy while lying on their back

• Keeping head center to watch faces or toys

• Attempting to reach for toys held above their chests

• Turning head to sound or voice

cognitive development activities for infants

This type of development focuses on how a baby’s intellect grows, including their thinking and problem-solving skills. If you’re wondering how to stimulate baby brain development, here are some cognitive development activities for newborns that can be done during playtime:

• Peek-a-boo (yes, again!). As far as developmental activities for infants go, this game is perfect for giving your infant’s brain a boost. Playing peek-a-boo helps your child develop object permanence (or their understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot directly be seen) while strengthening their visual tracking.

• Read a book. In fact, read all the books! Reading has been proven time and time again to promote a child’s thought development. When you’re wondering how to entertain a newborn, a book with bold colors that is either cloth or a hardback is an excellent activity. As children get older, incorporating books that encourage them to press buttons and touch different textures helps to further encourage cognitive development.

• Rattles and noisemakers. Baby playtime isn’t meant to be quiet, so now is the time to get out the rattles and other noisemakers. While they may not look like much fun to adults, rattles stimulate a baby’s brain in all sorts of ways. The combination of sight and texture help to develop a child’s perception, which helps them make sense of the world. Plus, it helps them learn cause and effect (if they shake the rattle, a noise will be made). It’s easy to use these in a variety of activities for babies: in the car, being held, bath time, tummy time, or lying on a playmat.

You’ll be able to see the rapid cognitive developing in your child when they hit the following milestones:

• Visually tracking a moving toy while lying on their back

• Keeping head center to watch faces or toys

• Attempting to reach for toys held above their chests

• Turning head to sound or voice

physical development activities for infants

This is the area many parents see the most growth in. Starting with baby playtime, there are a variety of activities for babies 0-6 months that encourage developmental milestones such as pushing up on arms from the tummy, rolling over, or even moving arms and legs off of surfaces when excited. Here are a couple activities parents can do to encourage their little ones to reach these points:

baby doing tummy time with tummy time pillow on aden + anais activity gymbaby doing tummy time with tummy time pillow on aden + anais activity gym

tummy time

Lying your baby on his or her stomach to play is known as “tummy time”, and it can be extremely beneficial for physical development. Children should always be awake for tummy time, and it can last anywhere from 60 seconds to 5 minutes or longer.

From here, babies learn to lift their heads and push up on their arms which helps to strengthen their neck and back muscles. These muscles come in handy down the road when infants start trying to crawl.

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baby reaching for bird toy on bonding playmatbaby reaching for bird toy on bonding playmat

encourage reaching

This simple “game” requires that you place a desired object (a toy, a cardboard box, etc) just out of your baby's reach.

This encourages them to physically push themselves to try to get it. This may not be one of the best activities for newborns, but it is helpful once a child reaches 3-4 months.

 

 



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baby playing with toy bar on aden + anais bouncer + rocker + seatbaby playing with toy bar on aden + anais bouncer + rocker + seat

encourage free movement

One of the most effective ways to encourage an infant’s physical development is to simply let them move.

This means using equipment that restricts movement, such as high chairs, swings, or bouncers, for only short periods of time (ideally 15 minutes or less). In an open space, provide your newborn with toys that are soft and lightweight or attach toys to an activity mat, a toy bar attached to a seat or stroller, or a play gym.


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For some little ones, some physical development activities like tummy time can be a bit uncomfortable. You want to try to make this an entertaining experience. Consider an activity gym mat that helps to keep babies entertained while continuing to encourage their physical development. These activities will help your baby reach important milestones:

Lifting and holding head up from lying on tummy

• Pushing up on arms from lying on tummy

• Bringing hand to mouth

• Opening and closing fist

• Enjoys a variety of movements

For some little ones, some physical development activities like tummy time can be a bit uncomfortable. You want to try to make this an entertaining experience. Consider an activity gym mat that helps to keep babies entertained while continuing to encourage their physical development. These activities will help your baby reach important milestones:

Lifting and holding head up from lying on tummy

• Pushing up on arms from lying on tummy

• Bringing hand to mouth

• Opening and closing fist

• Enjoys a variety of movements

indoor activities for babies

The majority of activities for infants described here can be done indoors. Indoor activities for babies allow you to control things such as a temperature or loud noises, which can be overstimulating. Indoors you are able to engage your baby in multiple ways. For example, using a playmat during baby playtime not only is beneficial for physical development, but the attached toys can be used for cognitive development activities as well. Plus, tummy time on a playmat is the perfect opportunity to play peek-a-boo or shower your newborn with affection.

When playing indoors, safety should always remain a top priority. Here are a few precautions to take before playing:

• Minimize risks of fall by making sure your infant is secure in your arms, crib, pack-n-play, etc. If you’re using an activity mat, place it on the floor (not the couch, a table, or any uneven or elevated surface).

• Minimize choking risks by making sure to remove all small objects from baby’s reach (jewelry, pen caps, coins, etc.). The only objects you want them to grab are age-appropriate toys such as rattles.

• Minimize suffocation risks by avoiding toys with strings or cords and making sure plastic bags are not within reach.

• Minimize risk of injury by making sure the area is clear. This might mean conducting playtime in a separate room from pets and older children who could unintentionally harm a newborn while running around. Never leave a newborn completely unattended during playtime.

outdoor activities for babies

mom and baby going on a walkmom and baby going on a walk

While indoors can be a convenient place to play, there are definitely ways to take baby playtime outside. If you’re curious about how to entertain a newborn in nature, here are a few suggestions:

Go for a walk. This might sound simple, but it is so rewarding for everyone involved. For newborns, taking a stroll through a park, a nature trail, or even just around the block allows your baby to interact with the larger world. You’re encouraging their cognitive development while bonding with them (which encourages social and emotional development!). Walks are one of the best activities for newborns because being in nature has numerous positive benefits for parents as well. Not only are you helping your little one develop, but you are soaking up Vitamin D for yourself at the same time!

Tummy time (the outside version)! By moving your activity gym, playmat or blanket to a flat grassy area with shade, you can take this indoor activity for infants to the outdoors. A change of scenery is refreshing, and the new sights and sounds provide additional entertainment.

Water play. Sensory play stimulates your baby cognitively (as their brain processes new textures) and physically (as they figure out how to play with different substances). If the temperature allows it, water play is one of the most entertaining outdoor activities for infants. Keep it simple with a few plastic bowls or trays of water, or a baby pool filled with just a few inches of water. From there, let them kick and splash away!

Just as when you are inside, your child’s safety outdoors should remain a top priority. When conducting activities for your baby outdoors, remember to minimize exposure to the elements. This means making sure your infant is properly protected and dressed for the weather. In the warmer months, we suggest playing in shady areas to eliminate direct sun exposure, especially to babies younger than 6 months. In cooler months, it is recommended to dress your infant in one additional layer than you would dress yourself.

Having a child involves more than eating, sleeping, and changing diapers. Playtime needs to be at the top of the list of “what an infant does all day.” Starting early on, there are plenty of things to do with a newborn that not only entertain them but also help encourage them to grow and develop.