Written by Sophie – founder of Raise Workshops, bespoke parenting workshops and first aid classes.
You don’t need a steady stream of new (and often expensive!) toys to play with your baby and help them develop their senses and skills. Here our professional and Norland Nanny, Sophie gives us her top 27 baby play activities that you can do around the house.
1. Colander with Pipe Cleaners
Grab your colander and pop some pipe cleaners into some of the holes. See if your baby can pull some out and maybe even pop them back in again.
2. Hiding Objects
If you have some stacking boxes, pop some smaller toys under each one around the room if your baby is on the move or just in front of them if not and encourage them to what is underneath each box.
3. Book Circle
Create a book circle. Place some books open and upright in a circle and place your baby in the middle of them. Make the circle bigger if your baby is on the move.
4. Cushion Mountain for Crawlers
Pop all your cushions and pillows on the floor and place a blanket over the top and let your crawling baby try and climb up or over the mountain.
5. Milk Bottle Pom Pom’s
Clean out an empty milk bottle and give to your baby with a pile of pom pom’s and show them how to pop the pom pom’s into the bottle. Make sure you stay next to your baby during this activity so they don’t try to pop any pom pom’s in their mouth.
6. Tissue Paper Kick
Tuck some tissue paper under your sofa cushions so it hangs down to the floor. Lay your baby on the floor so their feet are in front of the paper and can kick it. They will enjoy the sound it makes and it helps them learn cause and effect. (If I kick my legs the paper will make noise)
7. Water Filled Balloons
Fill some balloons with a little water and then blow them up slightly (not too much otherwise they pop too easily). The weight of the water makes for a really interesting experience for your baby when they move the balloon around or pick it up.
8. Helium Balloon
If you happen to have a helium balloon, attach it loosely with ribbon to your baby’s arm or leg over their clothing. When they move their arm or leg they will also move the balloon above them.
9. Box play
If you have any empty boxes lying around grab them. With a large one you could open both the top and bottom and make it into a tunnel for your baby to crawl through or if not yet moving you could place them inside on their tummy and then go to the other side so they can interact with you. With smaller boxes you could sit your baby inside, prop them up with some cushions or blankets if needed.
10. Mirror play
Do you have a mirror that can be taken off the wall and placed either on the floor or safely propped up against the wall? If not you could just hold your baby in-front of a mirror. Babies love faces, however your baby won’t actually recognise their own reflection until they are around 18 months old. Games like peek-a-boo can be even more fun in-front of a mirror.
11. Water & Ice play
Fill a tray or shallow baking dish with a little water and some ice cubes. Add a sponge and a small pot or two. Place the water on the floor on top of a towel and strip your baby down to their nappy if warm enough or to a vest that you can easily change once they have finished playing.
12. House & Garden Tour
Take your baby on a tour of your house. Stop and talk about things you can see. Pick things up and let them touch them if safe. This is great for their language development and their concentration levels. You’ll be surprised how interested your baby will be by the things around your house. You could also do this in your garden if you have one.
13. Spice Cupboard
Explore the different smells in your spice cupboard. Rub a small amount (not too much so the powder doesn’t go in your baby’s eyes) of a spice on the back of your hand and let your baby smell. If they seem interested you could try a few more. Talk to your baby about what they are smelling.
14. Parachute play
Turn a large scarf or bedsheet into a parachute. You’ll need your partner or an older sibling to help you with this one. Place some soft toys or small balls onto the scarf and see if you can make them all fall off when you fly them up in the air.
15. Sensory balloons
Fill balloons with things such as flour, rice, pebbles, couscous and sand. Don’t blow them up just tie a knot in the end to stop the contents coming out. Babies will love exploring each balloon, as each will feel different depending on its contents.
16. Laundry Basket with Ribbons
Thread ribbons of differing length and texture through the holes in your laundry basket and tie in a knot to keep them attached. Turn your laundry basket upside down and let your baby explore all the ribbons.
17. Bubbles & Dance Party
Turn on your music, maybe try alternating music styles each day so your baby experiences a verity of sounds and beats. Blow some bubbles and show your baby how they can pop them using their fingers.
18. Material Pull
Using an empty tissue box or if you have an empty plastic wipe box with a flip lid, fill the box with scraps of material. Show your baby how to pull the scraps of material through the slit or lid of the box.
19. Fairy Light Box
Attach some fairy lights to one side of the inside of a large box with some strong tape. Turn the box over so the lights are at the top and the opening of the box is on the floor, then place something soft like a mat or blanket inside and lie your baby on it so they can look up at the lights. Best to do this with babies who are not yet moving. If the box is large enough you or a sibling could lie next to your baby.
20. Spaghetti Play
Cook lots of spaghetti following the packets instructions. Rinse well under cold water when cooked. Place on a large tray or baking dish and place on the floor on top of a towel and let your baby explore. Some babies will love the texture and will enjoy squishing, grasping and pulling at the spaghetti and lots of babies will try and pop it in their mouths, this is ok but make sure to always observe your baby whilst playing with spaghetti.
21. Taste Safe Paint
I really like mixing food dye into natural or greek yogurt (greek yogurt makes slightly thicker paint). Mixing food dye into baby rice and water also works well. Pop the paint onto a tray or large piece of cardboard or similar and let your baby play and there’s no need to worry if your baby does decide to have a taste as it’s completely safe as long as they have no allergies.
22. Sensory Bags/bottles
Half fill the freezer bag or bottle with warm water and add the glitter or any small objects you wish (glitter, sequins and pom poms work well), you can also add food dye to colour the water at this time. Then add as much of the glycerol or baby oil as you wish. The more glycerol you add the slower your objects will move around. If using a bottle, pop the lid on and shake the container to mix everything together. Remove the lid and dry around the lid, add superglue and replace the lid. This prevents your little one from managing to open the container. However an adult should be around when your baby is playing. If using a freezer bag, pop inside another freezer bag and seal and then pop some tape along the seal to make sure your baby can’t open it.
You can also add dry ingredients such as rice or lentils to your bag or bottle instead. Just fill half way so there is lots of space for the contents to move around and make noise.
23. Sensory Hula Hoop
Tie ribbon or string onto a hula hoop and then attach toys and objects to the ribbons/string. You could also tie scarfs and teething necklaces to the hula hoop. Place your baby either inside the hula hoop or next to it so they can explore everything on it.
24. Treasure Basket
A treasure basket is to be filled to the top with different objects so babies can dig in and pick things that interest them and explore the objects weight, size, texture, shape and smell. Parents or caregivers should not interfere in the play, they should be in the room to observe and react if the baby chooses to share what they have discovered but apart from that the baby should be left to their play. This type of play is thought to help develop confidence and concentration skills.
25. Contrast cards
Start with black and white and by two-three months start including brightly coloured ones. Place on the floor when your baby is doing tummy time, or prop up so baby can see when lying on a mat. Sticking some to the wall next to their change mat with either blu tack or washi tape also works well.
26. Nursery Rhymes with Finger Puppets
Singing nursery rhymes to your baby is a brilliant activity that you can do from birth. When they get to about two-three months old they might start to enjoy watching finger puppets as you sing the songs. This will help with their visual tracking skills. If you pop them in a bouncer or something similar they will be able to watch both you and the puppets and listen to your singing which they love (even if you don’t have the best of singing voices!)
27. Ribbon Ring
All you need is some coloured ribbon (save them from birthday and Christmas gifts) and a small wooden ring or failing that a chunky bracelet will work.
Cut your ribbon so they are all the same length. Then one at a time pop the ribbon through the wooden ring/bracelet until half way and then tie into a double knot. Repeat with all your ribbon. To stop the ribbon fraying at the ends seal each length of ribbon with a lighter. String from toys longer than 12 inches is considered a strangulation hazard for children. Do not leave your baby unattended with their ribbon ring unless you make yours shorter than 12 inches.