What Babies Learn Through Play
Birth to 3 months
Newborns aren't interested in toys -- they're too little to play with them -- but they're endlessly fascinated by people, especially Mom and Dad. Babies love to look at human faces, and even prefer crudely drawn facial features to other shapes or patterns. But an infant can't focus beyond nine inches for the first couple of months. And it'll take some time before he can make sense of his surroundings and himself; around 3 months, he'll begin to realize that his hands and feet, which have interested him for weeks, are actually attached to his body, and he'll reach out and try to bat at and grab objects held out in front of him -- though his aim won't always be accurate for several more months.
You can play this game even with a newborn who's only hours old: Put your face close to his, and open your mouth wide or stick out your tongue. He'll watch you intently, and may imitate you. If he does, make another face. Keep playing until he averts his gaze, yawns, or cries -- signs that he's tired and needs some quiet time.
Benefit: Taking advantage of your infant's natural instinct for mimicry is a terrific way to communicate and bond with him, and an opportunity for him to learn what it feels like to control the muscles in his face.
Sometime after he turns 2 months old, tie a small, soft toy to a ribbon and hold it in front of him. Swing it slowly from side to side; he'll be able to follow it with his eyes -- something he couldn't have done just a few weeks ago. By about 3 months, your baby will have enough arm and hand control that he can take a swipe at the toy.
Benefit: This game encourages the development of important visual skills, such as focusing and tracking, and provides your baby with a great opportunity to practice his eye-hand coordination.