Babies are cute, and lovable, and cuddly. And you know what else? Babies can be really boring company. It’s true! No one told me this when I wanted to become a parent. It’s completely worth it of course: the hard parts, the boring parts, and the urine-soaked parts are all outweighed by the snuggles and kisses and laughs.
But nobody bought me the book called, “Babies: Not the Most Riveting of Company.”
(Probably because I just made it up.)
They can’t hold a conversation and love to eat their own feet. Cute and all, but after day 35 of staring at their hands I tend to get bored out of my skull. If your baby is somewhere between 3 months and a year, you know what I’m saying. They aren’t old enough to entertain themselves yet so it falls on you to not only cater to their every need but to stimulate and play with them constantly, too. Now I love my baby, and I love being a Mom, but before summer vacation was over I was scouring the library for books on How To Amuse My Baby For Long Periods of Time Without Harming Myself or Others.
(I also suffered through a gripping case of PPD at the time, so that definitely colored my experience.)
I scoured the library and the internet for a list of baby-approved activities that appeal to their sense of object permanence, their natural curiosity, and their infatuation with cause and effect. When work started back up for me I printed up this list, punched some holes in it and put it in a binder for my Mom who watched Isobel several days a week. In addition to all the toys, books, and cats this list managed to keep her entertained all winter long while the weather kept her from her beloved “outside.”
Isobel is, without a doubt, so much more fun to take care of now. She is old enough to do activities, participate in (limited) conversation, and her own personality is clearly coming through. I sometimes miss my little Baby Blob who contentedly sat on my lap throughout dinner and didn’t mind the constant snuggles. But Isobel 2.0 is so much better.
It occurs to me that there are probably parents out there right now who are pulling their hair out trying to find ways to entertain their 4-month-old. Or, their 8-month-old. Or their 15 month old. The best part about most of these activities that I found is that they are appropriate for more than one age level and they will appreciate it in different ways depending on their stage of development. Playing with bubbles at one age is completely different than doing the same activity just two short months later. Babies must age in dog years, but like really, really smart dog years.
It’s amazing and so rewarding to see your kid change from a tiny baby into an actual tiny person. Amazing. Anthony and I try to do enriching, educational things with our daughter, but honestly we can’t teach her to be human. We can’t teach her the things she needs to know. No one can. All we can do is assist her while she learns how to be human by herself.
Every game isn’t appropriate for every age level but I found it was worth it to keep trying them at different stages because something your baby ignored at one stage might be captivating the next. Then they might get bored of it but in a few months, it might be entertaining again in a whole new way.
I’m also listing them here for selfish reasons: sooner or later, I’m going to have another baby, and the fun (and mommy-brain memory loss!) will start all over. I came up with 100 games for the list but I’m separating the posts into four parts so I’ll post 25 ideas at a time.
Sing-song type games are great to introduce to baby because you’re displaying language, social skills, rhythm and melody, anticipation, and if you incorporate motions and engage your baby, it becomes a bonding activity as well. Even before your baby can speak you’ll notice that they recognize certain songs and they will begin to anticipate things, like the POP! In Pop Goes the Weasel.
My mom had books on finger plays and rhyming games that she’d bring with her when she babysat and we received a book on nursery rhymes at a shower. I had forgotten most of them so it was great to have the book to turn to for inspiration. Here are some of our favorites:
1. Itsy Bitsy Spider: doing the hand motions, even before your baby can reciprocate, is great because she will watch you with interest and eventually try to mimic you.
2. Twinkle Twinkle: I made up hand motions to go with this but most often when I sing it I just grab both of her hands and swing them back and forth. When we’re done she usually says, “MAS!” which means “more!” in Spanish. She reminds me of the baby dinosaur from the TV show Dinosaurs sometimes.
3. Ring Around the Rosie: adding an interactive element always makes it more interesting for baby. I like to pick her up and swing her down when I get to the line “we all fall down.”
4. Pop! Goes the weasel: I clap at the POP!
5. Row your boat: I make swimming motions with our arms.
6. Frere Jacques / Brother John: I just sing this, no hand motions except for the “ding ding dong” at the end when I poke her belly button.
7. Patty Cake: it’s never too early to patty cake.
8. Peek a Boo: Ditto. You’ll be surprised how early your kid will try to play Peek-a-Boo back with you.
9. Happy and You Know it: Basically anything that takes advantage of your baby’s urge to clap is a favorite.
10. This Little Piggy: if your baby is like Isobel then she loves to take her socks and shoes off and inspect her toes. When I was little my mom always made up funny variations of the places the piggies were going and what they were doing. My mom, a Weight Watchers enthusiast, usually said at least one of the piggies was going to Weight Watchers. This made my sister and I collapse in a fit of giggles every time.
11. How much is that doggy in the window: If I don’t make the proper accompanying barking noises when I sing this one, she lets me know I’m doing it wrong.
12. Yellow Submarine: she loves it when I sing this one to her, or when I make her animals sing it to her or each other. I don’t add hand motions but I usually sing it in different voices and sometimes we march to it. At 17 months, she’s VERY into marching. (I was a band geek, so it’s probably genetic.)
13. Old Mac Donald: not my favorite song, but hearing your baby make animal noises is so cute it’s worth it. Plus animal noises are a great way to teach basic phonics and rudimentary vowel sounds.
14. B-I-N-G-O: one time Isobel had a meltdown in the car when we were about two minutes away from home. The only thing that stopped the screaming was Anthony and I singing “BINGO” over and over. Except we got bored so we started changing “Bingo” to names like, “Ringo”, “Dingo”, “Lingo”, “Gringo”, and most notably “Disco.”
15. So Big: My sister really liked SO BIG. And very early on babies can participate in this one by holding their arms up. Even littler babies can participate if you move their arms for them. Usually they find that hilarious.
16. Where is Thumbkin?: our friend Justy bought Isobel finger puppets so I like to do this while wearing them. We usually don’t get very far into this game before she pulls the finger puppet off my finger, but that’s okay.
17. Headbutt, Little Goat: Anthony’s family taught Isobel to play this game and there’s an anglo version called “Ah Boom!” but, um hello, “Headbutt, Little Goat” is way cooler. (We say the phrase in Spanish but I have no idea how to spell it so I’m not going to try. Except for the “little goat” part: ‘chavito.’” Basically we say “headbutt, little goat!” as we lean in and gently headbutt her. At first she just laughed and laughed but very early on she learned to anticipate the game and when you started it she’d lean in to headbutt you, too. That was amazing to me. She loves this game, just remember to be gentle.
18. Here’s where I flaunt my 1970s roots: call me a dirty Californian hippie but I grew up listening to Marlo Thomas’ Free To Be on vinyl from a young age thanks to my awesome mother. Can’t recommend it enough, along with the Muppet Show and vintage Sesame Street. That’s right, I’m recommending judicious doses of TV along with music. Hate away, haters. Baby Picard Jesus loves me unconditionally. When Isobel was young I only let her watch a few minutes via Youtube while she was on my lap. We kept up the all-important parent-child interaction that way and her screen time was very limited. Now that she’s older she’s very into Yo Gabba Gabba and she gets a half hour a day. I know, I’m a terrible, terrible person.
19. Bubbles: Isobel went through bubble-indifferent phases, bubble-curious phases, and bubble-infatuation phases. She’s currently infatuated with bubbles. She love to watch them float around, she loves to pop them, she loves to try to blow them. She requests bubble time on a daily basis. If your baby likes to pop bubbles a fun thing to do is to get a bubble gun and make a huge pile on the ground and let your baby go to town popping them.
20. Make Some Noise: When Isobel found out she could make different noises by blowing raspberries, sticking her tongue out, clicking and doing things with her mouth, it was a revelation. Even very young babies will mimic you if you stick your tongue out. And they love it when you repeat their nonsense words with them. I like to this of this as one of Isobel’s first conversations.
21. Signs: My mom started Isobel on sign language very early. I was amazed when she started signing. I don’t remember how old she was but she was very young. It will take lots of repetition before your child attempts it, but it’s worth it.
22. Gimme Five!: start prompting how to give five very early and give examples of you giving five to other people. Adding a word such as “POW!” or “HIGH FIVE!” each time reinforces it. High Five is great for us because Isobel will eagerly high five people she is too shy to wave to.
23. Tupperware Party: we learned how much babies love Tupperware (or other plastic container) when we watched my cousin Victoria. They like stacking, sorting, putting things in the containers and taking them out. She can’t manage opening the lids yet, though, so don’t seal them unless you want to give your baby rage issues.
24. Zippy bags: Isobel also enjoyed putting things in zippy bags and taking them out again. The clear aspect of the bag makes it very interesting. The object is inside but you can still see it. Fascinating!
25. Crinkles: Little babies are fascinated by crinkly sounds from newspaper, tissue paper, wrapping paper, crumpled paper, and if they are strong enough, bubble wrap. Isobel particularly loved playing with an unopened package of ramen. Satisfying crinkles, weird-textured noodles, crunchable bits! Fascinating.
This is part one in a four-part series Games to Play with Baby. 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.