Build on your child's current skill set and foster further development with a host of engaging games and activities from Holly Engel-Smothers, co-author of Boosting Your Baby's Brainpower and a contributing author to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.


Babies (up to 1 year)

Ready, set, go! Make the most of this first year by building a positive bond through play.

1-3 months

Watch for:

  • Face-to-face interaction
  • Lifting his head while laying on his tummy
  • Stretching, kicking, and starting to grasp objects
  • Genuinely smiling in response to seeing you
  • Responding to noises

Play this Today:

Tracking. Because baby is especially enthralled with your face, use it to stimulate vision. Make eye contact and slowly move your head from side to side -- her eyes will follow your simple movements.

3-6 months

Watch for:

  • Bringing both hands together
  • Sitting up with support
  • Enjoying bright colors
  • Babbling, squealing, and giggling to communicate with you
  • Responding to your facial expressions and sounds

Play this Today:

Be a copycat. Stick your tongue out, dramatically blink your eyes, and make goofy faces so your baby imitates you.

6-9 months

Watch for:

  • Sitting up without help
  • Putting objects in her mouth
  • Stacking blocks into organized structures
  • Enjoying repetition

Play this Today:

Engage the senses. Fill a paper gift bag with strands of ribbons (nothing dangerously long) in different colors and textures. "Babies love pulling them out and feeling them," Engel-Smothers says. "This is good for developing motor skills." Be sure to supervise baby as she plays with the ribbons and use the opportunity to talk about their differences.

9-12 months

Watch for:

  • Gaining mobility: creeping, crawling, or holding onto furniture to move around
  • Taking first steps
  • Picking up small objects
  • Paying attention to simple commands
  • Saying first word

Play this Today:

Follow the leader. Follow your baby as he maneuvers around his play area, then let him follow you. "Baby will move toward anything that draws his attention," Engel-Smothers says.

Toddlers (1-3 years)

This stage is full of self-discovery as your little explorer continues to understand the world around him. Childproof the house so he can safely indulge his curious side.

What to Watch for:

  • Growing vocabulary
  • Rolling a ball on request
  • Pushing, pulling, dunking, and stacking toys
  • Climbing on furniture and play equipment
  • Assisting with simple household tasks
  • Feeding himself with utensils
  • Running and jumping
  • Walking up and down stairs
  • Enjoying drawing

Play this Today:

Hands and feet. When you host a play date, cut handprints and footprints out of different-colored pieces of felt. Let the kids take turns jumping on the footprints and putting their hands down on the handprints. This teaches colors, large motor development, and the importance of taking turns.

Preschoolers (4-5 years)

Preschoolers are all about imaginative play. They enjoy acting out going to the grocery store, playing house, or being a superhero who saves the day.

What to Watch for:

  • Skipping and hopping
  • Throwing and catching
  • Building block towers
  • Jumping rope
  • Dressing herself
  • Interest in letters, numbers, and the alphabet
  • Using scissors
  • Understanding shapes and sizes

Play This Today:

Nightlight clothes. Few games are as fun for preschoolers as dressing up in Mom and Dad's clothes. To mix problem solving and pretend play, raid your closet for different pieces of clothing that you don't mind spreading out on the floor. Put a flashlight in one of the pieces of clothing, turn it on, and dim the lights. Let your child find the flashlight, identify the article of clothing, guess who it belongs to, and put it on.

Copyright © 2009 Meredith Corporation.

Parents Magazine