Playing Around

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For a baby, everything is a teaching moment. He learns from seeing, hearing and feeling the world around him. And he learns a lot simply by playing and interacting! Here are some insights into how a baby learns from play, and how you can maximize the fun - and the growth - in this all-important first year.

How Does Play Teach?

A baby learns by doing - and play is doing. It contains plenty of physical and mental lessons. Watch your baby cooing at and reaching for a favorite toy. Here's what's going on behind the scenes: He's learning about muscle control, breath control, distance measurement, the difference between his hands and feet, coordination, how to make different sounds, how to pay attention to one specific thing, and the concept of cause and effect. All of these are essential building blocks for later skills like walking, talking and abstract thinking. And you thought he was just being cute!

Parents as Playmates - and Teachers, Too.

To help your baby learn, you don't need a lesson plan. Just do what comes naturally. Anything that activates your baby's senses in a pleasant way can be both fun and "educational" - hugging, cooing and stroking; splashing in the tub; clapping hands; counting fingers and toes; rocking and singing; lifting up high; playing Peek-A-Boo; throwing blocks on the floor; crumpling papers; looking at books; or simply waggling your fingers in an enticing way. Whenever you help your baby have fun using his senses, rest assured that his brain and body are learning. In a baby's world, no game is too silly.

Not Now Mom.

A baby mood can change on a dime. That rousing game of Peek-A-Boo that elicited so many giggles at 1:00 might draw tears at 1:30. Read your baby's signals - if he seems uninterested in playing, he might be hungry, wet, tired or uncomfortable. Or he simply might not be interested in the game you're trying to play; he might be afraid, over-stimulated or bored. Try something different, give a cuddle or just give him some space. Keep in mind that babies have slow reaction times as well - it might take 15 to 20 seconds before he responds to something.

Go For It.

You won't "spoil" your baby by playing with him a lot. In fact, babies who are played with end up being better at playing by themselves. The most important thing is to have fun together. Think of all the valuable things he is learning through play - not the least of which is "I am loved!"