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The Secret Side of Baby Play

By Edited Jul 7, 2015 0 0

Baby play seems so simple but there is a secret side to baby play that few parents know about.

This is because baby play looks very different to the play of older children. So many parents miss out on seeing the earliest stages of play in their baby because it is not what they expected. So here is some ‘inside’ knowledge to help you see and admire the play of the youngest babies.


Babies at Play

Baby Playing

First Play (1 to 3 Months)

Babies start to play at around 1 month of age when they accidentally discover interesting things to do with their body (like grasping). They then repeat these movements for fun. Psychologists call this type of baby play – ‘practice play’. This earliest play of babies focuses upon what their bodies'  can do and how they can move. Practice play teaches babies how to control their first movements but also that they CAN control their movements. This is an essential step towards those more obvious signs of learning, like crawling. So when you see your baby repeating a simple movement over and over again you are watching their first play time.  [568]


Older Baby Play (4 to 8 Months)

When babies become older (4 to 8 months of age) they focus less on how their bodies can move. Instead babies of this age love how their actions can change the word around them. Rather than simply grasping a rattle, for example, they can shake and make a noise with it. So the play of babies at this age is not really about the toy but what they can do with the toy. This is an important fact to keep in mind when choosing toys for your baby to play with. [568]

Although young babies love repeating movements and actions, older babies enjoy and learn from play that is creative and new. They love exploring and inventing. This type of play may go unnoticed because these little scientists love discovering how many ways something can be dropped on the floor, for example, or they love finding out about all the interesting things they can do with their food (other than eating it). [568]  Play like this is commonly misunderstood by adults. Babies aren't intending to be ‘messy’ when they play in this way. They are testing out ideas and learning from experimenting. So it's important to remember that babies of this age aren’t being naughty, something which might give some comfort when you are cleaning up all that mess again (and remember they do move on to other types of play once their learning style changes).



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  1. Fergus P. Hughes Children, Play and Development. Los Angeles: Sage, 2010.

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