August 20, 2015

Our Favorite Activities for Easy Baby Play!

*Disclaimer* This post contains affiliate links.

As someone who has spent the bulk of my adult life playing with kids it's hard to admit that it was tough to come up with easy and fun ways to play with the babies, especially when they were brand new. I believe play should unfold naturally with appropriate choices and the ability to explore the world in which children are living. But how exactly do you do this with non-mobile babies or into-everything infants and toddlers?

One of my favorite resources since early on has been Rachel Coley over at CanDo Kiddo. As a pediatric Occupational Therapist, Coley knows first hand how important early experiences are for development. As she says on her blog, "What babies do, shapes how they grow." Even the youngest of babies can benefit from the right kinds of tactile, visual and auditory experiences. And the best part is that you don't have to do much to help your baby play every day! It's all about encouraging babies to use their bodies and senses to learn about the world around them.

Coley has written two wonderful books full of great ideas to get your baby moving, exploring and learning. Begin With A Blanket: Creative Play for Infants, is full of easy and fun ideas for even the tiniest of humans - starting at just 1 week old!  Plus, Coley walks you through each activity and explains how they work and the benefits for baby.

As the girls are getting older and more mobile Coley's book Simple Play: Easy Fun For Babies, has been such a great tool. I refer to it all the time, especially when I need something quick and easy to offer them to explore. It is full of opportunities for play babies from birth to 2 years and is even categorized by ability (sitting, standing, crawling, walking) so you can be sure what you're doing is developmentally appropriate. It also includes ways to facilitate and develop skills without forcing them. I promise after reading these books you will feel like an expert in child's play!

I have loved watching the girls grow and learn through simple, self directed play activities that are so easy to set-up at any time, often requiring nothing more than things I already have! Not to mention many of these ideas helped me stay sane in the last year! Here are some of our favorites!

Mirror Play

Who knew a $5 mirror from Wal-Mart would be one of the best purchases I ever made in terms of baby play! Everyone knows tummy time is great for the development of those little muscles and helping to prevent problems like plagiocephaly (flattening of the head). Using a mirror adds a whole new dimension (literally!) and keeps it more interesting. We had a mirror set up from day one and my girls loved to stare at themselves and the world around them. As they got older I watched them reach out for their reflections, notice each other and start to roll towards the mirror. And it's not just great for tummy time, we still use it every day!

Bonus Tummy Time tip for twin moms: put babies on pillows facing each other! So much fun!

Hanging Toys


We did a lot of tummy time but I always followed their lead and they spent plenty of time on their backs as well. I tried to encourage them to look around and reach for things from a young age by introducing a new object or two at a time for them to check out. One of the biggest hits was around 3 months when I hung a few jingle bells and beaded necklaces over or near their heads. They also liked looking at hanging mirrors, ribbon, streamers and glow-in-the-dark bracelets. Soon enough they were swatting, grasping and pulling.

Naked Tummy Time

When they were about 2 months old I saw an excerpt from an old baby book from the 1940s that someone posted on Facebook. The mom wrote that she "permitted baby to lay in the nude" every morning on her bed (presumably while she got ready?). We hadn't let them go naked yet (they peed every single time we took the diaper off - we were scared!) but we started a new routine that included naked tummy time in their cribs during diaper changes. I still always put a few prefold cloth diapers under them because they would still always pee! But they loved it! I sang to them and put a stuffed animal or toy for them to look at and reach for.

Tissue Paper Kicking and Tissue Paper Wiggle


I saw this on CanDo Kiddo's Facebook page and had to try it right away. Just tape some tissue paper under the couch cushion and lay baby in front of it. It was perfect because we had so much tissue paper in the house during Christmas and I knew there was some way to use it! They loved the sound and feeling of it on their feet. I would also ball it up and let them pull it apart, lay it down and put them on their tummies to look at and touch it and I now use it in their discovery boxes until they start to eat it.

Side to Side Rolling

We did this every day as part of our "exercises" (we also did gentle pulling up, limb stretches and tummy time). They loved it and I even got one of their first giggles when rolling them like this. I even sang a song I made up while we did it (to the tune of Frere Jacques):

"Roly poly, roly poly (slowly roll side to side)
{Jules} can roll, {Viv} can roll,
Rolling to the left (roll all the way to the left side)
Rolling to the right (roll all the way to the right side)
all the way over (gently roll on to belly)
all the way over (gently roll on to back)"

While play time gets crazier and more active as they're getting older, it doesn't have to be harder to set up or enjoy! Now I'm able to set up invitations to explore and play for them to revisit throughout the day. Here are some of our favorites:

Ball Play

We have a variety of balls - small plastic ones, bouncy ones, textured ones and soft ones too. One of our favorite exploration bins is just filling them up with a bunch of different ones and some nesting cups and rings and they go to town! Now that they're older we roll them down the slide, roll them to each other and they're really getting into tossing them all over the place! I leave a few out all day every day and have a big basket of them ready to go on a shelf in the playroom.

Water Play

I love love love water tables and have one waiting to be opened that we're not quite ready for. But just because they can't stand and play at one yet doesn't mean they have to miss out on the fun. We use our sensory bins or baby pool, fill them up halfway with sink water and head out to the backyard for some splash time! I give them cups, spoons, straws, different objects that will sink or float and whatever else I can find to throw in. They love it all!

Tunnel Play

So much fun and so easy to do. Now that they crawl through it I can just open it up and let have at it!  We have the Giga Hide and Seek TunnelSimple Play has so many fantastic ideas to get you outside the box of just going through the tunnel too! We love using it as a ramp to drop things down and playing peek-a-boo with it!

Pillow Crawl

Can't get much easier than this - just take some pillows and toss them on the floor! The girls will not only crawl over them but sit on them and practice getting "down", pick them up and hold them, touch and lay on them and just last week they started stacking them on top of each other. I got even more creative and used my Snoogle pillow and nursing pillow to both climb over and crawl under like a bridge! We also love to combine pillow crawling with the tunnel and create an awesome obstacle course!

Anything Sensory

Coley talks about a few different sensory activities in her books. We call them exploration bins here and I love just filling a box with random items and letting them have at it. We are just starting out but we have loved using balls, fake flowers, letter blocks, bowls, glow in the dark stars, carrot peels and beaded necklaces. As they get older I can't wait to create real sensory bins with rice, beans, pasta, snow and more. I also created a discovery box with a hole in the top for them to reach in, touch and pull things out of. Super easy and super fun!

Loose Parts

One of the keys to good, engaging and yet simple baby play is having the right tools. This is where my love for loose parts and inability to throw anything away comes in! It's definitely paid off! The theory of loose parts is the idea that you use simple objects that can be moved, manipulated, carried and combined with no set way to play. Anything can be a loose part. Unlike a baby toy that has buttons to push or makes noise, loose parts allow the child to use their imagination, to create whatever experience they want.

I have a variety of baby friendly loose parts that get the most use in our house:

clean containers and their lids - yogurt and cottage cheese cups, wipes boxes, water bottles, egg cartons, puffs containers, cardboard boxes, plastic coffee containers, etc.
cups or bowls - especially if they're "nesting"
spoons - wooden, metal, measuring, etc.
large bottle caps and tops
family pictures in albums, on the walls, behind puzzle openings
large refrigerator magnets
blankets, towels, washcloths, bibs
baskets, buckets and small bins
scarves, hats, purses, handkerchiefs, gloves, etc.

I also have a huge stash of things they're not ready for yet including almost every paper towel roll we've used in the last year, cookie cutters, pipe cleaners, straws, yarn, small bells, stones, marbles, beads and more. The best part about this theory is that everything can be a toy! And it's so much fun too! I love browsing everywhere for new baby "toys"! The only issue I've run into is where to store them in between uses! More on my love for loose parts coming soon!

It's amazing how even the littlest of ones can learn so much about themselves and the world around them when you offer just a few easy to put together options for play and exploration. While we do have plenty of "baby toys" we do our best to create opportunities that are open-ended and child directed. Our mantra here is: Keep it simple and fun and watch the magic happen!

Make sure you check out CanDo Kiddo and pick up her books Begin With a Blanket and Simple Play on Amazon for more fantastic ideas. You can get both right now for just $35.95!

What are your favorite things to do with your little ones?


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