Break open a book, make a silly face, cuddle while cooing, or tickle your little one's toes. Not only are you baby's best playmate, you are "the teacher of your baby's brain," says Alice Sterling Honig, PhD, professor emeritus of child development at Syracuse University and author of Playtime Learning Games for Young Children.
Playing with your baby unlocks endless possibilities for mental and social development. Here's how to make playtime even more rewarding during your baby's first year.
1. Ease into play. Take advantage of any opportunity to increase parent-baby interaction: It builds trust and creates a secure bond, Honig says. During diaper time, for instance, stroke baby's tummy and talk to her while making eye contact. Say, "You have such a pretty tummy" and "You're such a cute little baby." Speaking in "parentese"--using a higher-pitched voice, delighted tone, and drawn-out syllables--attracts attention to your speech and promotes language development. "She doesn't know what you're saying, but she knows that what you're saying sounds pleasurable," Honig says.
2. Play hardworking games. During the second 6 months, babies become more active play partners, Honig says. Continue stimulating speech with games that involve chanting or rhyming, such as "This Little Piggy," "Patty Cake," "The Wheels on the Bus," and "Ring Around the Rosy." Multitasking activities such as these teach sequences of actions and words; encourage baby to participate with movement, whether it's swaying to the sound or incorporating hand motions; and improve motor skills.
3. Encourage communication. Whenever baby babbles or coos, repeat the sound she makes, then give her the chance to respond. This shows her that what she's saying is important to you and encourages reciprocal communication.