Signs your baby is ready to play

Jan 24, 2012 at 4:41 a.m. ET

For their first few months, babies don’t do much but eat and sleep. Around 4 or 5 months, though, they’ll start to be a lot more active (and a lot more fun!). Watch for these signs that your baby is ready to play.

Baby crawling towards rattle

She responds

You've been making faces and funny noises at your baby since the day she was born, and pretty soon she'll start making them back. She'll start smiling at you around 2 or 3 months, and laughing and cooing at 3 or 4 months. This is your baby's first attempt at socializing and her first way to play. Smile, make faces, blow raspberries and make strange sounds. Go ahead Mama, and make a fool of yourself -- your baby will love it! If she responds to what you're doing by smiling, laughing or trying to mimic you, keep going. This may not seem like much, but your baby is having a ball!

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She seems interested

Your baby will have fun watching toys long before she can hold them in her hands. Hang bright mobiles above her head or light-up toys on the sides of her crib. Watch her to see if she's paying attention and seems interested. If she does, continue with this type of visual stimulation. Place an unbreakable mirror on the floor so she can look at herself, or show her bright toys while you hold her on your lap. Stick with high-contrast items -- like black and white -- or bright colors because your baby can see these colors much easier than lighter shades.

She holds toys

Once your baby can hold a small object in her hand and manipulate it, she's ready to play with small toys. Around 5 months of age, you'll probably start to notice her raking at objects to pick them up and passing things from one hand to another. This is a good sign that she's gaining manual dexterity, so give her a few baby toys like rattles, rings, cups and small dolls to play with. She won't know right off how to play with these toys, so be patient and show her. If a toy makes noise, pick it up and shake it, then give it to her and show her how. Place textured toys in her hands and encourage her to feel the different parts. Babies at this age often start putting everything in their mouths, so watch out for anything with small pieces that could be choking hazards.

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She can find her toys

Put her toy behind your back, and then pull it back out and show it to her. Does she find this hilarious or does she get frustrated? If she thinks it's funny, your baby is starting to grasp object permanence, something that tends to happen around 5 months. This is the perfect time to start playing peek-a-boo. At this stage, she'll get that you're just hiding and haven't really gone anywhere. A month earlier, the game may have sent her into a panic because the youngest babies assume you're gone whenever they can't see you.

She sits up

Once your baby can sit up on her own, a whole new world of play opens up. She can now interact with most toys and see things from the correct angle. While your baby sits on the floor, place a toy in her lap and show her what to do with it. Babies at this stage will enjoy pounding on baby pianos and pressing buttons. This is the time when a baby starts to learn independent play, but she still wants your interaction, so be sure to spend lots of time on the floor with your little one.

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