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Help Your Baby Reach Key Milestones Through Creative Play

It’s sometimes assumed that all parents know how to play with their children in the earliest years, but that’s not necessarily true. Despite the chubby cheeks and adorable belly laughs, babies can be intimidating. After all, they need everything all the time, and many new parents get hyperfocused on the big three — feeding, changing and sleeping.

But play and early learning elements are also critically important. In addition to supporting language and fine and gross motor skills, play and activities like reading aloud to a baby can lay the foundation for self-esteem and self-worth and can help a child meet the major developmental milestones. Babies — whether they are just mastering tummy time, crawling, walking or toddling around voicing strong opinions — want and need to have fun! And parents are perfectly suited to make that happen. The key is consistent, responsive and creative interaction that evolves as your child grows.

To help you out, we consulted the experts and came up with these tips on playing with your little one from infancy to toddlerhood:

  • Imitation. Mimic your infant’s smiles, chirps and gurgles to build language and social-emotional skills. Imitating their expressions assures them they have your attention.
  • Words and Music. Talk to your baby and sing silly, even made-up songs with bouncy rhythms to keep their attention and introduce common phrases. And remember — your baby finds your voice comforting, so it doesn’t matter how you sound.
  • Grabbing Games. Present your baby with new and interesting objects — anything from plush toys to board books — to spark their attention and encourage them to reach, stretch and grasp.
  • Scoot and Stretch. Get your baby moving with supervised tummy time and belly crawls. Encourage early problem solving with an obstacle course that places pillows and cushions in their path.
  • Tunnel Time. What toddler doesn’t love crawling through a tunnel? You can shake it and roll it gently, and even add water on the hottest days.
  • Bubbles and Blocks. Boost your toddler’s sensory development by sharing these two classics. Chasing bubbles in the front yard or stacking blocks — and of course knocking them down — introduces different textures but also the basic idea of cause and effect.
  • Walk and Talk. Plan a scavenger hunt for household items, explore a nature trail or stroll through the grocery store with a list of favorite foods. If you want to add financial literacy to the mix, have them “pay” in pennies or Monopoly money. As you go, identify objects and locations, and ask questions to keep your toddler engaged.

The cliché is true when it comes to raising children: the days are long, but the years are short. And the more you help them hit early developmental milestones, the better equipped they’ll be as they grow into teens and college-bound students!

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