Why play is important
Babies are born to learn and their brains develop through use, forming connections as they watch, listen, play, experiment, and explore their environment. You’re their first teacher, and they keep learning from you as they get older.
Give yourself and your pēpi lots of playtime. These periods of play will probably be very short, because your newborn will get tired easily and can’t focus on anything for too long.
Connections are made in the brain as you interact and play with your baby. Simple “serve and return” interactions - where your pēpi connects with you by ‘serving’ a movement, facial expression, or sound and you ‘return’ by responding to them and then waiting for their reaction - help make strong connections in developing brains.
For babies, play isn’t about toys and games, it’s all about connecting and interacting. Your face, voice, and body is all you need to entertain them.
- helps you and your baby get to know each other, teaching your pēpi to trust and depend on you.
- helps your newborn feel loved and secure, and the bond between you and your baby gets stronger.
- gives babies different physical, sensory and cognitive experiences, and those experiences build connections in their wee brains.
- helps them learn to understand words, and soon, to talk
- helps them learn what their bodies can do as they experiment with movement.
By playing with your baby, you help them learn about themselves, you, and the world around them.
Watching your pēpi and seeing how they play and react to play can teach you about their personality. Some babies will watch you with raised eyebrows and a serious face when you’re making funny faces at them, others will clearly find you hilarious. Their reactions will show you what they like.
Follow your baby’s cues of when they want to play, and when they’ve had enough. Pēpi have different states of being alert. The best time to play with them in when they’re in a quiet alert state. If they become unsettled or look away, give them some time to calm and then they may be ready to play again.
Play may feel a bit one-sided in those first few weeks, but your baby will soon start to respond and join in. Try:
- making funny faces, smiling, poking out your tongue
- sing, chat, tell stories, enjoy nursery rhymes together. Rhymes like “this little piggy went to market” and “round the round the garden” are really fun
- reading to your baby, holding the book close so your newborn can see the images
- tickling, blowing raspberries, counting fingers and toes
- giving your baby different things to look at – outside, inside, different people and different places
- help them explore their senses – let them splash in the bath, feel different textures, smell different scents
- use rhythm and motion – play music with them, rock them gently as you hold them
- mix it up – they need variety to make new connections in their brain and body. Vary the pitch of your voice when you talk to them, take them into different rooms, show them new places, introduce them to new materials they can touch and move
- tummy time and floor play. Tummy time helps them practise holding their head up, and they can see things from a different point of view. Tummy time might be very short, and sometimes lying with them or showing them a toy may help. A little frustration is normal and helps them learn, but be guided by pēpi as to how long they can tolerate it.
Play takes lots of energy, so your baby might get tired or need a break. They’ll let you know by looking away from you, getting restless, getting grumpy, or seeming disinterested.
When they’re ready to play again they may turn towards you, look at you, move their arms and legs, or make sounds.