Babies Can Play, Too!
Positions for Play!
In between sleeping, eating, and diaper changes, your baby is ready for purposeful play! Babies can benefit from playing in a variety of positions to encourage them to reach developmental milestones. Sometimes, babies need to be kept in a safe space in a “container” such as a swing or bouncy chair, but the best place for purposeful play is in the floor with parental supervision and/or in a play pen. Below is an explanation of five different positions, why they’re good for your baby, and a few ideas of play in each position.
- Tummy: At just an hour old, you can begin tummy time with your newborn, starting with 3-5 minute increments at a time. From tiny newborns to 3 months old, this is done best while on an incline like laying on your chest. By 3 months, they should be able to play on their bellies for up to one hour a day. Tummy time should be encouraged daily until they are crawling to increase head control, prevent a flat spot on their head, strengthen back muscles, and promote vision and sensory development. There are many ways to do tummy time: tummy on chest, football carry, on your lap, or on the couch while you sit in the floor. While laying on their tummy, they can observe black and white cards, look at themselves in the mirror, watch their parents make funny faces, play with a water mat, or any other number of toys.
- Back: Babies sleep safest while on their back, but they also need to play on their back to strengthen their neck, hip, core, and arm muscles to prepare for things like rolling over and sitting up. While laying on their back, they are increasing arm strength by bringing hands together, increasing core and leg strength by grabbing for their toes, and increasing neck strength when looking right and left to find toys. While laying on their back, encourage your baby to clap their hands or play with a toy with both hands. For hip and core strength, try putting noisy, bright socks on for them to reach for. Placing them on a mat with overhead toys is great for both arms and legs. Around 4 months old, you should be able to hold your baby’s hands and pull them into a seated position without their head lagging behind.
- Sidelying: Laying on their side offers a different view of their world. If your child is starting to develop a flat spot on their head, side lying is a great way to alter the pressure on their skull to reshape it. Sidelying is also great for bringing their hands to midline to play and strengthening muscles on the side their neck, their tummy muscles, and using the legs to counterbalance so they don’t flop over. Sidelying can be done with your babe laying with their back against the couch while you’re nearby. It can also be achieved by laying them in a bobby pillow or by placing a rolled-up towel inside their onesie. While in sidelying, they can look at contrast cards, listen to crinkly toys or books, or manipulate toy keys or easy to grip balls.
- Sitting: Sitting while playing is considered "vertical play." This simply means that your little on is upright while playing. Sitting play can be started around 4 months with assistance when your baby has decent head control. Sitting play can help with eye alignment, using their vestibular and proprioceptive systems, improving balance with equal use of back and tummy muscles, and encouraging safety reflexes by catching themselves when they fall right, left, or toward the front. If you aren’t able to hold your child in a sitting position, there are many developmentally friendly containers you can use. A Boppy pillow, stacked couch cushions, or a laundry basket is an easy place to start. My favorites you can buy are the sit me up seat or the flat bottom Bumbo chair that has the tray in front to place toys on. Sitting play can be done prior to your baby’s ability to sit up by his/herself.
- Standing: Standing while playing is also considered "vertical play." Standing play can begin after 6 months, when your baby’s hips are safe for weight bearing. Kneeling can count as standing play-- when their knees are on the floor but they’re playing with something at a raised surface. Weight bearing through the knees and hips helps form a proper hip joint, helps with balance needed for cruising and walking, and helps with crossing midline to reach toys. Standing play is probably the easiest to do-- all you need is a diaper box! Babies love to start standing in your lap to bounce or pulling up on the couch. Standing at the coffee table (a horizontal surface) is easier than standing at a mirror (a vertical surface). Although standing is fun, we don't suggest putting your child in a jumper or walker, as these don't always allow good hip alignment.
What are you waiting for? Let's go play!
-Dr. Cheyenne Allen, PT, DPT
Purposeful Play PT. (n.d.) 4 Practical Tips for Purposeful Play. https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5fd6e2152cabbf38e7a36834/t/60553efe88dbc02315c918a1/1616199429540/TOP+TIPS+FOR+PURPOSEFUL+PLAY.pdf
Allen-Jameson, A. & Parish, L. (2020, January 16). Hip Hip Hooray for Vertical Play! Curious Neuron. https://www.curiousneuron.com/childdevelopmentarticles/2020/1/15/hip-hip-hooray-for-vertical-play