Best Baby Games: Birth to 18 Months

Even newborns want to play. Here's an age-by-age guide to the best games for babies.

Never Too Young for Fun

Mom looking at toddler in her arms

Something about the stuffed animal we dubbed "crinkle puppy" for its crinkly sound when squeezed left my daughter Emma, 3 months at the time, smiling each time I placed it in front of her. Maybe it was the contrasting colors that held Emma's attention. It could have been the way I often "spoke" for the puppy, giving Emma an idea of what a real puppy would sound like or what it might say to her if it could talk. "Babies are so eager and curious," says Michelle Gross, a developmental psychologist who directs a Centers for Disease Control-contracted parenting research project for kids from birth to age 5. "Your interaction with your baby -- keeping her happy and giving her opportunities for playing and learning -- is setting a foundation for how she'll approach the world, really for the rest of her life."

A particular toy might snag your child's attention -- thank you, "crinkle puppy" -- but never underestimate your own power to produce a smile, Gross says. Babies are most amused by your behavior when you laugh, make funny noises with your mouth, or open your eyes really wide. A guide to what makes her happiest, and why, during those early weeks and beyond:

Birth to 3 Months

  • What Your Baby Likes: Sensory stimulation, your smiling face, the comfort of routine.
  • What's Behind the Smiles: She feels a sense of security -- vital for her sense of well-being -- when you rock and cuddle her. At 2 months, she becomes more alert, just as her vision develops to the point where she can follow moving objects and people, so she'll love gazing at her surroundings.
  • What You Can Do: Hold her close and sing to her, suggests Catherine Grus, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Mailman Center for Child Development. Babies love faces, so look directly at her as you talk about your day, the errands you're running, or who you might be seeing later on.

Around 2 months, she also might smile or coo happily at high-contrast primary colors and patterns placed within her view. Try hanging a simple mobile above her crib. She'll like the mobile's motion and bold patterns.

Even at this young age, babies will like imitation games. It starts with something she can already do, like form her mouth into an "O" or stick out her tongue. "You can try, when you're eye to eye, making an 'O' with your mouth and seeing if she does it. Then stick out your tongue and see if she does that too," suggests Judith Myers-Walls, an associate professor and extension specialist in the Child Development and Family Studies Department at Purdue University, in Lafayette, Indiana.

Make your daily routine fun for your baby by injecting a bit of silliness -- greet her with the same pet nickname when she wakes up, or sing the same song as you get her dressed, or playfully drip water onto her tummy during bathtime.

By 3 months, she may grasp, say, a rattle with your help, but she won't fully understand that she's the one shaking it.

Playing With Baby: Memory Building Activities
Playing With Baby: Memory Building Activities

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