How to …play and engage


For the first 2 years, babies are in the sensorimotor phase of play: fun comes from repeated behaviours that stimulate the baby’s senses and motor skills. The sensory aspect is crucial. Babies learn to recognize objects by shape, colour, sound, and taste. They exchange objects for similar ones. This phase sees the emergence of symbolic and imaginative play. The following section summaries the various stages of play development and suggests strategies and fun stuff you can use for stimulating play.


What babies find interesting…

SteJustine-12dec2014-Montage-TROISIEME PASSE-ENFANT 5 MOIS STIMULATION25Babies gaze at faces and track movement. They are attracted by voices and sounds. They discover objects by sight, touch, smell, and sound. They discover their bodies as much as other objects. They stare at their hands and bring their feet to their mouth. Everything goes into the mouth. Gradually, they bring two things together, one in each hand, and bang them against each other. They like peek-a-boo games, tickling, cuddling, and being held. They imitate sounds and facial expressions in interactive games.

How to… engage your baby, spark development

  • Put the infant on her tummy when she’s awake and place toys up front where she can raise her head to look at them
  • Put your face close to the baby’s and move from left to right so the baby’s eyes follow. Move a toy slowly from one side to the other.
  • Sing songs and lullabies to the baby
  • Play sound games; while making eye contact, say “papapapa”, “dadadada”, “mama” or “oo”, or blow raspberries; wait for a response and go again
  • Repeat sounds that the baby makes or answer with other sounds and/or simple words. Carry on a “conversation”
  • Play with the baby’s hands and feet; e.g. clap hands together (“Bravo!”), play pat-a-cake, or make bicycling movements with legs
  • At around 6 months, play peek-a-boo. Babies love when you hide your face and then reveal it; you can also hide the baby’s face
  • Play bath games (see bath toys in next section)

Fun stuff…

  • Musical toys
  • Toys that can go in the mouth
  • Rattles, cubes, mobiles, brightly coloured and contrasted (even black and white)
  • Objects of different textures
  • Bath toys: rubber ducky, bathtime books, bath toys that can go in the mouth


Attention Span

At this age, if the object doesn’t move, the baby is not usually interested for more than a few seconds.


What babies find interesting…

STE-JUSTINE_1_2015-03-30_1535_C0019.01_20_57_13.Still012From age 6 to 12 months, babies make huge strides in gross motor skills. They learn how to pick themselves up when they fall forward from a seated position, and from there, how to sit up on their own. They learn how to propel themselves backward then forward and to crawl on all fours. At some point, they put weight on their legs and pull themselves up to a standing position. The baby is now more mobile, free to explore, get further away from you, and come back. Babies like to play whatever position they’re in: on their tummy, sitting down, on all fours, and standing. Small objects get pushed, pulled, turned, and picked up. Babies prefer actions that get a desired effect. They love to bang, like clanging a spoon against a lid. They push buttons that get sound from musical toys. They empty and fill. They like to follow objects until they disappear. They smile and laugh at games you play that are physical and where they can anticipate what comes next. At around age one year, babies understand object permanence: objects continue to exist even if they can’t be seen.

How to… engage your baby, spark development

  • Speak to your baby. Tell her what’s going on; e.g. “Mommy’s washing her hands” or “Daddy’s changing your diaper”. Name new objects. Repeat the names of familiar objects. Make the appropriate gestures for bye-bye, bravo, yes, no.
  • At about 9-10 months’ corrected age, drop something onto the ground or hide something under a blanket and get baby to find it (object permanence)
  • Lie down on the floor and have the baby climb over you as if you were a hill
  • Show the baby animal pictures and imitate the various sounds each animal makes Comment le stimuler…

Fun stuff…

  • Boxes and containers to fill and empty
  • Board books that show objects of daily life, such as foods, clothing, animals – preferably, one picture per page
  • Ball (play “roll and catch”) – medium-sized, that the baby cannot swallow


Attention Span

Interestingly, babies respond differently to adults than to other children. At around 12 months, babies will answer questions in some fashion. They can initiate play on their own. Attention span…15 seconds for an object, 30 seconds for a sound-and-light toy.


What babies find interesting…

2015_08_14_14Babies like to experiment with different motions and sensations. They throw, push, pull, insert, carry, open, close, build towers, point, and show. They like to imitate what adults do, like brushing teeth or combing hair. They often play alone while watching what others are doing. They’re quite possessive of their toys, but begin to share. They start playing pretend games, breathing life into ordinary objects; for example, using any rectangular object as a phone, or adding motor-like sounds to a toy car. They use daily life actions in their pretend games, like eating with a toy spoon. They enjoy showing off what they’ve done.

How to… engage your baby, spark development

  • Play chasing games and hide-and-seek
  • Show baby how to manipulate different objects
  • Show baby how to build block towers that the baby can knock over when done
  • Read stories to the baby
  • Ask the baby to find familiar objects
  • Teach the parts of the body
  • Encourage baby to explore

Fun stuff…

  • Fat crayons
  • Simple board and picture books
  • Stacking toys, sorting shapes, simple shape puzzles
  • Sound toys
  • Toy telephone
  • Plastic dish set


Attention Span

This is the age where babies start using words to express their needs. They may answer simple questions. They use a semblance of words when playing and talking to themselves. Attention span…they switch activities often.

18-24 MONTHS

2014_08_08_8What babies find interesting…

Toddlers at 18-24 months like being active – running, climbing, kicking a ball. They prefer to engage in multi-step activities that require planning the next step. They like imitating adult behaviour and activities (vacuuming, washing the car). They play with a favourite doll – feed it, put it to bed. They get into simple character pretend games and copy events in daily life. They accept other children playing alongside. Toddlers like complex tasks with adults, as well as building blocks and tool kits. They laugh at weird or senseless situations.

How to… engage your baby, spark development

  • Continue playing hide-and-seek and chasing games
  • Imitate characters from favourite TV shows
  • Go to the park and playground, where your toddler can climb the apparatus, run, and meet other children
  • Let your toddler help in simple routines, like setting the table, cleaning the table, cooking (mixing, pouring, tasting)
  • Do funny things that make the toddler laugh; e.g. put a bowl on your head instead of a hat

Fun stuff…


  • Safety-proof household objects – children’s broom, dishcloth, plastic dishes
  • Big beads to thread – make sure beads are large enough not to be a choking hazard
  • Crayons
  • Hats
  • Dolls that can be fed and cuddled

Why it’s important

A bit of theory

Basic concepts

How to ...

Useful links

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