Before your baby arrived, you may have imagined how you would spend your days playing with him. Once you brought him home from the hospital, you realized that between feedings, changing diapers and sleeping, your day is filled before you know it. While newborns don't need a lot of extra time spent on playing, there are some things parents can do help stimulate them and help them begin to learn.
How to Play
Newborns are learning about the world around them with every sight and sound. Their vision is mostly blurry, except for about 8 to 12 inches from their face. This makes is a perfect distance to see the face of the person holding them, and newborns love to look at faces. Simply smiling and talking to your newborn while holding her or while giving her close eye contact will help your face and voice become familiar to her, and she will know that you are there to comfort her and meet her needs. She will be searching for the source of sounds from a very early age, so when she makes a sound, repeat it back to her and wait for her to make another. You will be teaching her all about having a "conversation."
When to Play
Babies spend much of their day sleeping, so it may seem difficult to get any playing done. Watch for moments of quiet alert time, when your newborn is awake and attentive. This is the time when he will be most responsive to you playing with him. If he is awake but extremely active, it may be a sign that he is getting overstimulated and would rather not have play time right now. He may even turn his head away or get fussy when you try to get his attention. As newborns get older, they will have more time during the day in the quiet alert phase and be able to play for longer periods of time.
In the first few months, babies don't need many toys besides their caregiver's face and voice. However, there are some simple toys that can help stimulate your newborn's senses. Toys and books that have images with sharp contrasts, like black and white, are easier for babies to see and help stimulate her vision. Rattles and toys with different textures will help her develop her sense of hearing and touch. Babies also love mirrors and will be drawn to their reflection in them. Make sure you use an unbreakable mirror for safety reasons.
As you play with your baby, watch him to see all of the new things he can do each day as he develops. In the first few months, you will see him be able to bring his hands to his mouth, reach for and grasp a toy and kick and stretch while lying on his back. All of your smiling and talking will pay off when you see his first smile back at you and listen to him "talk" back to you. He will begin to follow your face as you move around the room and begin to use his hands and eyes in coordination as he reaches out to grab objects nearby. You will be amazed at how much he can do in such a short time, but the time you spend playing with him from an early age helps him to develop all of these necessary skills.