Learn By Playing

Playtime: An Instructive Experience for Parent and Baby 

by Carol Harding for Your Baby Today

Play is a child's "work" because it accomplishes so many developmental tasks. When children play they learn about themselves and the world around them - how to relate to others and how to communicate. 

A baby's playtime is equally important for parents. Playtime allows a parent and baby to share glee, and draws a parent into a baby's magical world. Tickle-tickle, peek-a-boo, and those made up interactive games are not only fun, but also bond baby and parent. The smiles and giggles that emerge make the simplest activities rewarding. 

Parents appear to be genetically "wired up" to enjoy being with babies. First movements, burps, and yawns provide parents with lifelong memories. A baby's first sounds teach parents to talk in a special language (called "motherese") that helps develop language skills. It is during playtime that parents and babies come to know each other and learn to communicate.

Kicking, reaching, touching, gumming, wiggling, and babbling are all ways that infants and toddlers experiment with body sensations and motor movements. Swiss Professor Jean Piaget watched his own children and others engage in this kind of "sensorimotor" play as he formulated his theory of how humans develop knowledge. Babies' play, he believed, was the foundation for all later learning. To him, babies were like small scientists who experiment with their bodies and the world around them as they invent knowledge.

Although healthy babies tend to play whenever and wherever they can, there are some ways that parents can help turn ordinary moments into fun learning opportunities.

  • Create a playful environment. Babies don't need toys as much as they need time and a child-safe space to discover themselves and their surroundings.

  • Let play happen. Don't over plan for play or structure too many activities for a baby or toddler. Quiet time and shared interactions that follow from baby's natural body movements and actions are the best ways to help a baby learn through play.

  • Both interactive play and individual playtime are important ways a baby learns. Diaper changing games and those invented together during bath time and mealtime are wonderful ways to interact and help your baby learn about the routines of life.

  • Support a baby's playtime. Talk with children about their play, be sure they have time for their own inventions and fantasies, and appreciate playtime in your own life.

  • Learn about play. Go to the U.S. Department of Education's Web site ( and conduct a search for "play" for articles about playtime throughout a baby's development.


The content on these pages is provided as general information only and should not be substituted for the advice of your physician.