What Your Child Learns from Play

At dinnertime, your 6-month-old prefers grabbing the spoon to eating. When you unload the dishwasher, your 20-month-old wants to put the silverware away. In both situations, your child is pursuing what he does best: playing. Play is monumentally important to all aspects of child development -- it's how children of all ages learn. "I always tell parents, if you could see inside your child's brain you'd notice that every time he plays, connections are being made," says Roni Leiderman, PhD, coauthor of Gymboree Play and Learn: 1001 Fun Activities for Your Baby and Child.

Why Do Newborns Want to Play?

Place your newborn in his crib, and he'll be fascinated by the motion and colors of the mobile dangling above him. He can't reach out and grab the mobile (yet), but he can use his senses to study it. Sound, sight, taste, touch, and smell will be the tools he uses to figure out the world. Indeed, for the first year, most play is sensory driven. If it's within his reach, he'll grab for it. Once it's in his hand, he'll shake it to see if it makes a noise, put it into his mouth to taste it, or rub it to see what it feels like.

To get a picture of the world from a baby's point of view, imagine how you feel when the dessert cart comes by after dinner -- you want to taste everything in sight, even though you know that the chocolate will be sweet and the Key lime pie will be tart. Babies have no reference point. Their environment is a smorgasbord ripe for discovery and full of surprises -- such as the differences in taste and texture among a sock, a plastic ball, and a chopped-up banana.

Age-Appropriate Play Activities: Birth to 6 Months

  • Rub baby's arms and legs with different fabrics such as satin and flannel.
  • Faces fascinate babies. Place a mirror near baby's changing table, or draw faces on paper plates for baby.

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