Play is a baby’s way of learning about the world. It promotes all kinds of development, from motor skills to social ones. Not sure how to get started? You can’t go wrong with simple and silly, and chances are you have all the tools you need right at home. Here’s an age-by-age guide for the best games to play with baby during their first year.

photo: Joe Hunt via Flickr

0-3 months:

1. Imitation Game
Your face is one of baby’s favorite things to look at, and it’s a great teacher. Keeping your face about a foot away from your newborn will guarantee they see you properly. Stick out your tongue or form an O with your mouth. Before you know it, baby will begin to copy you. Bonus points for silly noises to go along with the expressions.

2. Singing
Newborns might not be able to see you from across the room, but chances are they can hear you…and they already recognize your voice. Sing a sweet lullaby, belt out your favorite pop song, or make up a song about your daily activities. It doesn’t matter if you’re pitchy or out of tune, your baby’s going to love hearing your voice anyway!

3. Flashcards
While babies aren’t ready for those math or reading cards yet, simple images from cards or books get their attention. Black and white images, simple patterns and bright colors are easiest for them to see at this age. They also love images of other babies. All you have to do is hold up the card, point at the picture, and talk about the image.

4. Hanging Toys
Your little one might not be reaching out for toys yet, but they love looking at them. Hang a musical or moving mobile above the crib or swing. Find an activity gym with hanging toys and lay baby on their back to enjoy. Baby-safe mirrors are great, too. Babies won’t know it’s their face, but that won’t dampen their enthusiasm for staring at it.

photo: Kristen Burns via Flickr

4-6 months:

5. This Little Piggy
By this age, your little one is a bit more responsive. Change up those simple activities for slightly more interactive ones. Now’s a great time to introduce “This Little Piggy.” It doesn’t require any motion from baby, but it’s more interesting to them than a simple song. You might even get a laugh when you tickle those toes and tummy.

6. Moving Tummy Time
Speaking of tummies, make tummy time more fun by putting it in motion. Once baby has pretty good head control, lay them on their stomach on a small blanket. Then slowly pull them around the room. Make motor or train noises for even more silly fun!

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7. Blowing Bubbles
You don’t need to wait until baby’s old enough to chase after them to introduce bubbles. At this age, they’re starting to see better, so they will be fascinated with the moving rainbows of bubbles. Just make sure to keep the soap from getting in their eyes. Revisit the bubble game once they’re old enough to toddle around after them.

8. How Big Is Baby?
It’s amazing how fast those early months fly by. Your six-month-old will seem huge in comparison with how little they were just a few months ago, making the classic “How Big Is Baby?” game all the more poignant. To play, hold baby’s hands and ask in a sweet voice, “How big is baby?” Then put their hands up over their head and say, “So big!” Mix it up by replacing “big” with different adjectivessmart, sweet, etc.

photo: Kourtlyn Lott via Flickr

7-9 months:

9. Patty Cake
You don’t need to retire those less-interactive songs from the newborn stage, but continue to up the game with songs that have motions and finger play to go along with them. Start by showing the motions to songs like “Patty Cake,” “Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” and “Wheels on the Bus.” Once baby is familiar with the songs, help them do the motions with their hands.

10. Peekaboo
By now baby is beginning to have an understanding of object permanence, knowing that when things are out of sight, they aren’t gone forever. If your little one hasn’t already discovered the joy that is peekaboo, now’s the time to try it out. Hide your face behind your hands, hide baby’s face behind your hands, or pop out from behind a door or curtain. You can also try hiding or partially hiding objects from baby to see if they’ll look for them. This is a fun one to do with musical toys under a blanket.

11. Flying Baby
At this age, baby should have enough control and strength for some flying time on your knees. Lay on your back or slightly propped up on a pillow. Use your bent legs to support baby’s body, hold their hands, and gently fly them around. You can go up and down, side to side or a combination. Sound effects and silly songs go along great with this physical activity.

12. Roll the Ball
Once you have a little sitter or supported sitter, sit across from them and roll a ball toward them. At first, baby probably won’t roll it back, but they might pick it up and play with it or mouth it. When they loses interest in the ball, roll it back to start the game all over. Eventually, they’ll be rolling it back to you!

photo: Juhan Sonin via Flickr

10-12 months:

13. Sensory Boxes
Nothing is more fun for your older baby than taking things out of a box and putting them back in. Fill a box or bin with a combination of balls, soft blocks, small books, scarves, or baby-safe household items like a wooden spatula. Look for objects that have different textures and are big enough not to be choking hazards. Show baby how to look in the box, take out a few things, and then put them back in. It won’t be long before they’re dumping out and rearranging every box they can get their hands on.

14. Obstacle Course
Chances are your little explorer is on the move, or ready to be soon. Whether scooting, crawling or full-on climbing, a pillow obstacle course will prove to be a good energy burner. Set out couch cushions or pillows all around the floor. Demonstrate how to climb over, around, or peek under them.

15. Dance Time
There are so many ways to enjoy dance time with baby. You don’t have to use baby music; play your favorite tunes if you’d like. Sit on the floor with baby and bop your head and body or pretend to play an instrument. Baby might not be ready for air guitar yet, but it won’t take much prompting to get them bopping along to the beat. You can also hold baby in your arms and spin in slow circles or sway back and forth. Or sit them in your lap and bounce them on your knees.

16. Stack It Up
Stacking cups, stacking rings and blocks are a favorite for your almost one-year-old. But you don’t have to limit it to toys that are designed to stack. Any items that can be put on top of one another and knocked back down without breaking are fair game. Try plastic kitchen containers, empty yogurt containers, or small boxes and bring in your little destructor to knock them down.

What are your favorite simple games to play with baby? Tell us in a comment!

–Katie L. Carroll