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The importance of playtime for your little one: The first year

Kim Grundy is a mom, writer, expert laundry folder and sandwich maker, not necessarily in that order. Raised in Oklahoma, she is now a West Coast gal and lives in California with her husband and two sons, along with one dog, two fish (oo...

Age-by-age playtime guide

You ensure your baby is securely buckled up into his carseat for the half-hour drive to go shopping. You give him plenty of treats for the hour ride in his stroller through the mall. You plop him in his highchair in front of an educational DVD for the hundred and first time. If this sounds like you, then you are forgetting one very important activity: unstructured playtime.

Playtime and baby's development

What is unstructured playtime? It is providing your child with a safe environment filled with age-appropriate toys that will allow him to explore, problem solve and learn all while developing the skills he needs to reach important developmental milestones. Getting your child moving and playing at an early age will also help set the stage for an active life that will ward off obesity.

How can you encourage your little one to play in a way that will be stimulating to him and help him develop physically and mentally? Here is a look at what toys will most benefit your tot as he grows during that important first year:

Baby development - 0 to 2 months

Your newborn baby has trouble seeing details, but can focus on objects as far away as 8-10 inches. Toys such as mobiles, soft stuffed animals and child-safe mirrors will catch his eye at this early age. His favorite toy at this age is YOU! He loves looking at your face and imitating your expressions.

>> More ideas for smart newborn playtime

Baby development - 3 to 4 months

At age 3-4 months, baby is gaining coordination allowing him to kick and swipe at objects. Provide plenty of hand-held rattles and floor gyms for baby to practice his new moves. A floor gym is also a great toy in providing stimulating colors and textures while baby is on his tummy. This "tummy time" is an important way for baby to develop his neck muscles.

>> Learning baby toys to boost brain power

Baby development - 5-6 months

Many babies at 5 to 6 months are able to roll from their tummy to their back, so allow him plenty of opportunity to practice this new skill.  Because babies at this age love textures, now is a great time to introduce a baby book that contains new things for baby to touch and feel.

Once baby nears six months, most are able to sit with only slight support and are starting to crawl. Toys that move or roll will encourage your baby to move or crawl with the toy. Your baby will also love stacking toys, such as blocks, and toys that imitate you, such as a cell phone or keys.

>> 5 Things to know when baby starts crawling

Baby development - Months 7-8

During months 7 through 8, your growing baby is on the move! He will love toys that allow him to pull up on his own and stand and play. He is starting to realize that every action has a reaction, so toys that make a sound when he pushes a button or moves a lever are sure to get a response from him. Build a fort out of pillows or provide him with a small tunnel for him to practice crawling through.

>> Smart baby tips: How to stimulate baby's brain

Baby development - 9-10 months

Babies at age 9-10 months will enjoy rolling a ball back and forth to you and dropping it through a small net. Blocks and shape sorters continue to be great toys in developing his coordination and spatial skills for your future engineer. Although he probably won't be walking quite yet, now is a great time to allow him to practice with a push toy.

>> Developmental toys for babies

Baby development 11-12

Encourage your 11-12 month-old's growing vocabulary by pointing out words in your everyday life. He will love hearing you describe the flowers in your garden or all the objects in his room. Push and pull toys will continue to develop those skills needed for walking (and eventually running!) He will love practicing his new skills on outdoor toys and swings that provide him with different sounds, smells and textures than indoor toys.

>> A mom's favorite toys for babies


More baby toys & development


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