For Newborns and Babies
Try this: Puppets on Parade
Best for: 0–4 months
You’ll need: Store-bought or homemade fingertip puppets. (To make your own, cut the fingertips off of a pair of soft, knit gloves, or snip construction paper into short rectangular strips, and then tape them, like cylinders, around the tips of your fingers. Use a marker to draw features, including eyes, ears, a nose, and a mouth.)
To start: Place your baby on your lap or in a bouncy seat.
What to do next: Slide one puppet on each of your index fingers. Say your baby’s name, and slowly introduce each puppet with the following greetings: “Hello, Sophia. I’m Harry the horse,” and “I’m Henrietta the rabbit.” Move puppets up and down or in a circle. Make them dance, sing, tickle, kiss, or bow (by bending your finger). Give your little puppeteer time to track your movements or imitate them.
To mix it up a bit: Put a single puppet on your baby’s index finger. In time, she may bend her fingers or mimic your actions. If she enjoys the puppet talk, continue the conversation between your cutie and her new puppet friends.
Try this: Baby Insta-Chef (aka Patty-Cake)
Best for: 6–10 months
You’ll need: Baby’s hands and yours
To start: Place your baby in a bouncy seat, high chair, or in your lap and facing you.
What to do next: Hold your baby’s hands and clap as you recite these words: “Patty-cake, patty-cake, baker’s man. Bake me a cake as fast as you can. Pat it and roll it, and mark it with a B.” Then finish gleefully with the following phrase and motion: “And put it in the oven for baby (point to your child) and me.”
To mix it up a bit: Personalize the game for your budding baker. Work his name into the classic text; then wiggle his toes or tickle his knees when you say his name.
Try this: My Little Picasso
Best for: 8–12 months
You’ll need: Gooey, smooth foods that that are mild in taste. Try applesauce, yogurt, or pureed fruits and veggies.
To start: Slip your baby into a high chair with a rimmed tray, or settle her in front of a baking sheet on a newspaper-covered floor.
What to do next: Scoop a dollop of food onto a stable surface, and encourage your little artist to express herself to her heart’s content. Name the colors and describe the textures as she paints masterpieces (or her snacks).
To mix it up a bit: Add texture to the goo with bits of cereal.
Try this: Stick It and Pick It
Best for: 9–18 months
You’ll need: Sticky contact paper, tape, and some rubber or plastic toddler-safe toys.
To start: Proceed to any room with a bare floor (without an area rug or a carpet).
What to do next: Place contact paper on the floor, sticky side up. Tape all four edges to the floor to secure it. Scatter a few medium-size toys on paper, so they stick firmly. Help your cutie try to lift them. Cheer when he sets them free.
To mix it up a bit: Gently press your toddler’s fingertips to the tape or sticky paper, and help him lift them off again. Let him experiment with tape.
For Babies and Toddlers
Try this: Baby Touch and Test
Best for: 10–12 months
You’ll need: Items from around the yard or house: a silky scarf, crumpled paper, a cotton T-shirt, a felt square, a fleece hat, a cardboard square, a feather, a blade of grass, or anything else that’s fun to touch and safe to play with.
To start: Sit on the floor with your baby or toddler, say, in the family room or playroom, with the objects in front of her.
What to do next: Encourage your pint-size explorer to touch each object (don’t let her put anything unsafe into her mouth.) Coax her to experiment with textures.
To mix it up a bit: Get creative. Take baby into the master bedroom (or your largest and most interesting) closet. Let her run her hands over a pair of wool pants, a fuzzy sweater, a satin robe, and more.
Try this: The Creepy, Creepy Crawler (aka The Itsy-Bitsy Spider)
Best for: 12–24 months
You’ll need: Your hands and fingers—and baby’s
To start: Situate yourself anywhere you can sit comfortably, facing your baby.
What to do next: Make your spider by touching your left index finger to your right thumb and your right index finger to your left thumb. Walk your pretend spider up a make-believe wall. Sing the famous song, adding tame or exaggerated motions. Prepare to perform the song multiple times!
To mix up a bit: Teach your cutie to hum (or rock) along with you, and help his musical little hands master the upward, downward, and rising sun motions.