Do you go to the gym from time to time and feel like you’re working hard? That’s nothing to what your baby is doing! In the first year of their lives, babies have to tone up every muscle from scratch and put on a substantial amount of muscle mass. They have to learn how to raise their heads, turn over, sit up and crawl. Some will learn to stand and will take their first steps. Building up the body like this requires constant movement, and that’s why babies hate having to keep still. Playing active games with your baby helps to make getting stronger even more fun.
From their very earliest days, babies should be encouraged to stretch their arms and legs. You can do this through small actions like hanging a chunky mobile toy just out of reach above the crib, or placing a toy a few inches away on the floor so they have to reach for it. When they start to be able to drag their bodies around, rolling a ball or a wheeled toy along just in front of them can encourage them to keep moving. Try playing music and moving your body to it while your baby watches. Babies love anything with rhythm, and it’s natural for them to imitate the things they see their parents doing.
One of the first things you can do to help your baby exercise, even very early on, is to lie them down on their tummy on the floor or on a play mat. Make sure your baby can see you all the time and don’t do it for very long at first – you can build it up as they get stronger and more confident. Tummy time allows your baby to start pushing down, building up arm and leg muscles, while trying to reach nearby toys. Try lying on the floor in front of your baby so you can stay in eye contact.
Baby play gyms
Any toys or equipment you buy for your baby needs to meet safety standards and be age-appropriate, so always check the product specs. As your baby starts to find movement easier, consider using a baby play gym to allow for activity that is more independent. A well-designed gym can be used in a variety of positions and will gradually encourage your baby to sit up and learn to support itself. Reaching, grabbing, pulling and pushing activities can all be involved in this kind of play.
If there’s one thing that babies enjoy from the day they’re born, it’s making a mess. One way to create a lot of mess that’s relatively easy to clean up is to have bath time play. As long as you use age-appropriate products and never leave your baby unattended, this is a very safe way to play, and splashing around is fantastic exercise. You can also take your baby to your local swimming pool, as long as the water is warm enough. Under the age of six months, babies do a natural doggy-paddle, so if they are active in the water from this age then they will never have to learn to swim. Just remember that they can still get tired very quickly.
Soft play areas
As well as imitating adults, babies need to spend time with their peers. Taking them along to your local soft play area will give them the chance to explore the world with others who are at a similar stage of mental and physical development, and learn from seeing how other babies solve problems. There’s lots of stimulation in this kind of space, and safe opportunities to do challenging things such as pulling up into a standing position.
Playing in the park
Children love to be outdoors and it’s never too early to spend time in the park together. When your baby is really young, you can take along a mat to play on, and over time, you can give your baby more and more contact with grass, trees and flowers. Use suitable sun protection and be careful they don’t overheat, but don’t forget that they’ll enjoy being out in the sun just as you do. Meanwhile, you’ll get the chance to escape from the house and socialize with other adults.
Active play with babies is a great way to help them develop. It’s also a great way to bond, and it will give you memories that you’ll always treasure.