Playing with your baby may seem like all fun and games -- shaking rattles, squeaking plush animals, and watching as your child tries his chubby hand at rolling a ball. But make no mistake: What looks like downtime is work to little ones, and toys are often the tools for getting the job done.
"Playtime helps develop a baby's social, intellectual, language, and problem-solving skills," says Marilyn Segal, PhD, an early childhood studies program director at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.
Toys and games aid your child in learning to master motor skills and figuring out how the world works. When he's stacking toy rings, for instance, your baby is exploring their shape and what happens when they're thrown. He's developing hand-eye coordination as well as learning to recognize patterns and colors, how things are similar and different, and spatial concepts like "up" and "down."
The most important ingredient in play, however, is not a toy, but you. Your baby loves your attention, and playing is how he bonds with you and other caregivers. Here's what else he'll learn from his favorite toys and activities -- and how you can play up these important lessons.