Learning how to play with your newborn will help support their cognitive, physical, and linguistic development. Discover simple newborn activities that make play time fun!

It may seem as though your new baby spends most of their time sleeping, eating, and pooping. And while that may be the majority of your experience with your newborn, especially during the first week at home, there are many ways to play with your newborn that you can begin as early as day one to help support your baby’s development.

Learning how to play with a newborn is much simpler than it sounds and really means incorporating sensory activities, tummy time, and talking to your baby during their short times of being awake. You can even add some of these enriching activities to diaper changes and your feeding times.

Early adoption of wake-time activities for newborns helps them strengthen and develop their muscles and gross motor skills, develop their senses, and support their linguistic development. 

Wake-time activities for newborns

We’ve compiled a list of simple activities to help you learn how to play with your newborn baby and why this type of play is so important for your child’s development.

You can also download Kinedu for free to access more than 1,800 age-appropriate activities created by experts in early childhood development.

Tummy Time

Tummy time is one of the easiest ways to begin structuring playtime with your newborn. It is recommended that you start introducing tummy time to your baby as soon as you both come home from the hospital.

By spending time on their bellies, babies are able to strengthen and develop their neck and shoulder muscles as well as other critical motor skills that prepare them for sitting, eating solid foods, and crawling. Tummy time has also been shown to support brain growth and help babies achieve their developmental milestones earlier.

First Movements is a wonderful wake-time activity for your newborn that incorporates this important part of early childhood development.

Activity: First Movements

  • Development: Physical
  • Goal: To encourage your baby to begin holding their head up and move it sideways
  • Skills Practiced: Head control
  • Supplies Needed: A mat and a rattle

How To:

To begin this activity, find a soft surface to play with your newborn. Gently lay your baby face down and lay in front of them. Take out a rattle and show it to your baby, encouraging them to hold their head up. Next, carefully turn your baby to face up so that they can rest a little.

Show them the rattle, moving it from side to side, to encourage them to move their head. Lay them face down again and repeat the exercise. With this activity, your baby will begin to strengthen their neck muscles in order to hold their head up on their own.

Sensory Play

Just like you are transitioning into your new role as a parent, your newborn is also transitioning from the environment they knew inside the womb, to the big, complex, world around them.

Spending time introducing sensory activities to your newborn can help them develop their senses and to support their understanding and perception of the world around them. Your newborn’s sense of touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound all contribute to their perceptual development.

Warm Sensations is an easy sensory activity for newborns that can be incorporated into diaper changes or other structured wake-time activities you are already doing.

Activity: Warm Sensations

  • Development: Physical
  • Goal: To develop your baby’s perception of changes in temperature
  • Skills Practiced: Developing the senses
  • Supplies Needed: A towel and warm water

How To:

First, dip a small towel in lukewarm water, then run the towel over your baby’s body, gently massaging them. Repeat the activity with slightly warmer water making sure it is not too hot. This exercise will help your baby develop thermic sensibility, perceiving changes in temperature. Sensory activities like this one enhance your baby’s tactile awareness and body awareness.

Talking to Your Baby

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researched the importance of supporting linguistic development in early childhood. They discovered that listening to and engaging in “conversation” creates a stronger brain response and a deeper understanding of language.

In other words, talking to your baby is one of the most powerful ways to help them develop critical linguistic skills. The tones, inflections, and nuances of your voice when conversing with your newborn actively engage your baby’s frontal lobe, the part of the brain responsible for language processing.

Casual Chatting allows you to begin stimulating the language center of your baby’s brain with a simple wake-time activity.

Activity: Casual Chatting

  • Development: Linguistic
  • Goal: To familiarize your baby with the human language
  • Skills Practiced: Babbling
  • Supplies Needed: None

How To:

To complete this activity, simply talk to your baby while you’re changing their diaper, while they’re eating, or while you’re playing together. Talk to them about their family, your day, your plans, anything that comes to mind! By listening to your conversations, your baby will begin to familiarize themself with the human language and learn by imitation.

Download Kinedu to watch live and on-demand classes about baby development, parenting, and other relevant topics for parents!

How to Play with Your Newborn And Strengthen Your Bond

In addition to helping your newborn grow and meet their developmental milestones, engaging in wake-time activities with your newborn helps you develop and strengthen your bond.

Bonding helps to strengthen the attachment between a newborn and their parent. A secure attachment is instrumental in the development of your baby’s nervous system as well as their socio-emotional development.

Here are some easy ways to bond and play with your newborn.

Activity: Baby Massage

  • Development: Physical
  • Goal: To relax your baby’s muscles
  • Skills Practiced: Developing the senses
  • Supplies Needed: Baby oil

How To:

To start this activity, simply massage your baby’s body and use baby oil or lotion to increase its effectiveness. Observe how your baby reacts to your touch and if they smile in response. You can change their position to make them more comfortable. Try this a couple of times a week for a few minutes. Massages relax your baby’s muscles and enhance their tactile and body awareness.

Activity: Shake Shake

  • Development: Physical
  • Goal: To increase your baby’s ability to pay attention to sounds
  • Skills Practiced: Developing the senses
  • Supplies Needed: A rattle

How To:

First, gently shake the rattle directly in front of your baby. Now try to place it in their hand. Take your baby’s hand and gently move it from side to side. While completing the activity, observe your baby’s reactions to the rattle’s sounds and if they turn their head towards it. This activity will stimulate your baby’s sense of audition.

Your newborn baby will grow and develop quickly. It’s important to remember to slow down and enjoy the time you have during this impressionable and critical time in your baby’s development.

Playing with your baby will benefit you both. For more information about how to play with your newborn, or for individual support with childhood development experts, download the Kinedu app today!