I mentioned previously that if I were to write a book on Things You Didn’t Know About Parenting that book would be called, “Babies: Not the Most Riveting of Company.” Sometimes I needed ideas of games and activities to play with Isobel when I had been home with her all day and was feeling uninspired. I combed through the library and scoured the internet for ideas, and also added things that worked well for us. I gave this list to my Mom who watched Isobel when I went back to work and decided to share it here to help other uninspired parents and to keep it somewhere safe for when I need it next. I’m posting this in four installments.
26. Play with Pets: Isobel is old enough at 17 months to grab string or ribbons and play with the cats. She loves nothing better than to run down the hall, trailing a ribbon, with the cats in hot pursuit. When she was really little, however, she used to explode in a fit of giggles when we played with the cats while she watched. String, ribbons, laser pointers—anything that made the cats go nuts was highly entertaining for her.
27. Balloons make me happy: Babies of all ages love balloons in my experience. All sorts of balloons: regular air-filled balloons, helium balloons, Mylar, any and all are worth at least 20 minutes worth of happy distraction. Isobel loves it when Anthony and I pretend to play volleyball with one.
28. Mirror, mirror: Isobel is attracted to any sort of mirror or reflective surface. We have a large mirror in our bedroom that she loves to kiss and talk to, but she’s just as entertained by small hand mirrors. Unless it’s a baby toy, practice common sense and don’t leave baby unsupervised with a breakable mirror.
29. Hide the Toy: Around 5 months or so Isobel loved it when I took a favorite toy and covered it with a blanket or diaper. She’d always grin when she pulled the blanket off like, TA DA! I KNEW IT WAS THERE ALL ALONG!
31. Game Face: Very early on we started naming Isobel’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hair. Then we’d name our eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hair. Then we’d find a doll and name the doll’s features, etc. She loved this game and will sometimes play it by herself when she’s on a car ride. She especially loves to stick her finger up my nose and say, “NOSE!”
32. Glow Baby Glow: activate a glowstick and put it in a fabric or other opaque bag. The mysterious glow will fascinate her. Be vigilant with teethers, though—the last thing you want is your baby to bite through the glow stick and ingest gross stuff.
33. Cups: Gather plastic cups of various sizes and put them into shoe box. Pull them out one by one in front of baby and eventually she’ll want to pull the cups out of the box, too. She’ll probably want to inspect them. Show her how to band them against each other to make noise.
34. Photographs: Isobel loves looking at photos on the fridge. Change them up. Help your baby say people’s names or put up animals or other things she recognizes. I took this idea a step further and made a book for Isobel to learn our friends’ names. I’m currently working on one that has all of our family members in it.
35. More mirrors: to combine looking at a mirror with naming facial features you can name your baby’s facial features while looking in the mirror.
36. Talk to yourself: Various books I read suggested holding a constant dialog with your baby, narrating their life for them. It’s supposed to build vocabulary and promote awareness for the world around them. This was really hard for me because when no one but Isobel was around I felt distinctly odd to be talking out loud and it felt very forced. After she became more expressive it got a lot easier, because then it felt more like I was having a conversation, and less like a voiceover on The Wonder Years. The important things these books recommend you point out are adjectives and nouns (see the fluffy kitty! he’s a big boy!), sensations (it sure is windy today), and colors (the grass is so green).
37. Listen: Babies, especially young babies, know the world through their five senses. Whenever I’m outside with Isobel she’ll inevitably shout “Chucho! Chucho!” and when I stop and listen, sure enough I’ll hear a dog barking that had tuned out. It’s nothing for me but to Isobel that sound means there’s a puppy somewhere. And she loves that. Listening to sounds is more of an ongoing game: whenever there’s an unexpected sound I try to name it (do you hear the birds chirping? Or the ice cream man going by?). We often play this game on walks or at the park where there’s lots of activity. Not so fun if you’re at home (hey! I’m hearing the dryer again!).
38. Taste: this sense has to wait until your baby is on solids, of course, but a fun game I love is called food squish. Only play this game before a scheduled bath, strip baby down to her skivvies and bib, and prepare yourself for destruction. I like to give her foods just for the purpose of squishing it and feeling the texture. Cooked pasta, peas, bananas, etc. are great to put on the plate for your baby to enjoy. If she eats some, so much the better. Isobel also really loves lemons and limes. She’ll take a huge bite, make a sourpuss face and then demand more. While she’s playing with her food it’s good to ask things like, “does that feel squishy? Does that feel smooth?”
39. Feelings: a much less messy version of the touch game is to collect several objects with different textures: soft, smooth, sticky, rough, etc, and let your baby feel them while explaining the sensation. I liked to give Isobel scraps of fabric, for example, that had many different textures. I felt confident about letting her play with fabric and putting it in her mouth. Faux fur, or thrifted snippets of real fur, are fun for baby to explore, too.
40. Scent: Isobel eagerly sniffs any plant in the area after first declaring it a ‘flower.’ Other things your baby can smell are fruit: cut lemon, cut (mild) onions, cut herbs, or just things around the house like baby powder, shampoo, soap, things like that. Monitor your baby very carefully, though. Babies have been known to suffer from seasonal allergies, and I read in What to Expect (I believe) that some babies react very negatively towards strong chemical scents. Some babies won’t breastfeed if the mother wears lots of perfume. What I like to do is name any particularly strong odor in the area, just like I might describe what made a sudden, loud sound.
41. Kiss the cook: It didn’t take long before Isobel began exploring our kitchen cupboards and drawers. We baby proofed the most dangerous drawers and cupboards, but I wanted her to have a place to explore so I put baby-safe kitchen items in bins for her to discover. Her favorite items include: measuring cups, a whisk, measuring spoons, cookie cutters (dull edges), sealed plastic containers of sprinkles, and other kitchen ephemera. She also loves to bang on pots and pans and make all sorts of noise. Classic baby play.
42. Paper towel tubes / TP Tubes: babies make even the most mundane object a toy and paper towel or toilet paper tubes are no exception. She always liked playing with them but now that she’s a bit older I taught her how to make noise into them like it’s some sort of horn. Hilarious. For younger babies you can take the tubes and put some small toys inside. See if they will try to get them out. Make that process easier or harder depending on the skill of the child.
43. Magnets: one of Isobel’s first toys were plastic letter magnets for the fridge. She looooves magnets. She loves that she can move them around and attach them to the fridge. When she visits Ama and Papa (my parents) her favorite toys are also magnets. She has a special kitty magnet and a frog magnet that she loves to play with.
44. For the birds: I mentioned before that Isobel loves to feel the texture of birdseed. She loves to scoop it out and pour it through her fingers. Occasionally she’ll put a seed in her mouth but she doesn’t like the taste or texture and spits it back out immediately. When we play outside she almost always wants to play with birdseed. It’s the cleaner version of the sandbox, really, and when we’re done I just brush her off and sweep the excess onto the grass—where I was going to put it for feeding the birds, anyway. If your baby is really young and is insistent about putting the seeds in their mouth I might wait on this activity. Since the seeds I use are millet the grains are very small and not a danger.
45. Feathers: I found out how handy feathers were as a baby toy because they were attached to so many cat toys. A collection of soft feathers, such as those found on a clean feather duster or boa, is fun for a baby. You can stroke it on their feet and tell them it’s soft, you can show them how the feathers move when you blow on them, and you can tickle them on the nose with them. Closely monitor your baby if you use a boa, though, as I’m sure it’s a strangulation hazard.
46. Music: From a very early age babies can appreciate musical instruments, especially maracas, shakers, bongos, and jinglebells. Isobel liked playing with them with or without music to play them to, but I think she preferred them with music. Be sure any jingle bells you use are secure so as not to pose a choking threat.
47. More textures: a clean and safe way to introduce more textures to your baby is to get some sturdy old socks and fill them with sand in one (in a plastic bag first ), rice in another, and small pebbles in another. That way baby can squish and shake and feel the textures through the safety of the old sock. Be careful you don’t accidentally make a sap.
48. Beaded Necklaces: My mother in law Olivia gave Isobel a collection of mardi gras beaded necklaces and from very early on Isobel loved them. They were colorful, fun to feel, easy to shake and wave. Now that she’s older she loves to wear them and put them on her dolls. Beware the strangulation hazard.
49. Ribbons: tie different colored, shaped, and textured ribbons to a ring or a stick and work on naming the colors and sensations as you feel them.
50. Music: play music for your baby. I’m not touting any Mozart effect or anything (which has been discredited as an IQ booster for babies) but play different genres and types of music and see how your baby responds. She will prefer different music at different stages of development. When Isobel was very small, she loved very melodic songs. Now she tends to prefer very percussive songs.
This is part two in a four-part series called 100 Games to Play with Baby. You can find part one here. Please use common sense. Supervise your child with the appropriate amount of supervision for their developmental age and always watch out for choking hazards, falls, suffocation, or any other danger that might befall a helpless baby. Which I’m sure you already do already, you good parent you.