Kenneth R Ginsburg 

Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. 


Play is essential for your baby’s overall development, learning and wellbeing. 

Through play, your baby learns about the world around them and how they can interact with it. New play experiences also help parts of your baby’s brain connect and grow. And play that gets your baby moving builds muscle strength as well as gross motor skills and fine motor skills. 

Play is a great opportunity to talk with your baby, which means that play can help your baby learn about words, language, and conversation. And the more you play and talk together, the more words your baby hears. 

Playing together helps you and your baby get to know each other too. That’s because play can tell you a lot about your baby’s personality. 

There are many ways to build a relationship with your baby during awake windows, and playtime is an excellent one. Here are some ideas: 

  • Make faces, smile, laugh, roll your eyes or poke out your tongue. Your baby loves watching your face and playing peekaboo games. Nappy-changing is a great time for face-to-face play. 
  • Give your baby different objects to feel – soft toys, rattles or cloth books with pages of different textures are fun. Feeling different things helps your baby learn about the world. 
  • Give your baby different things to look at – outside, inside, different people or different rooms. 
  • Give your baby tummy time each day using a playmat or blanket on the floor. This encourages your baby to move and roll, gives your baby practice holding up their head and lets them see things from a different perspective. Always watch your baby during tummy time and put your baby on their back to sleep. 
  • Talk or make sounds with your baby and wait for them to respond. Make sure your baby can see your face when you talk. This shows your baby that conversations are about taking turns, listening, and responding to social cues. You might be surprised at how much your baby has to ‘say’. 
  • Try reading with your baby. It’s never too early to start but remember to hold the book close – newborns can see only about 20-30 cm in front of their eyes. 

Your baby will communicate with your non-verbally during playtime. To tell you your baby is ready to play, they might: 

  • Lift their head and face to you 
  • Gaze straight into your eyes 
  • Reach to you with their arm 
  • Smile 
  • Look alert 

Your baby might need a break from playtime when they: 

  • Frown 
  • Look away 
  • Pull their ears or rub their head 
  • Arch their back 
  • Flap arms 
  • Fuss or cry 

Follow your baby’s cues. Even babies with a lot of energy need downtime and might feel overwhelmed if you keep trying to play with them when they’re tired. If your baby seems startled or upset, you can try playing a quieter game a bit later. 


Play is about more than just having fun. For your baby, play is the foundation on which they will learn a whole range of skills. It’s not just the activity they’re doing when playing, but what they’re learning about at the same time. 

Play helps babies to develop skills in being social. One of their first developmental stages is to learn to smile and engage with other people. This human connection helps babies to feel secure and safe so their energy can be invested into growing. 

Play helps your baby to learn about themselves and the world around them. It’s an interesting way to spend time because unlike many other behaviours babies display, play is not about survival but for enjoyment and pleasure. And through the hours of entertainment they gain through play, there are flow-on benefits to every area of their development. 

Always supervise your baby’s play, even when you think they may be safe. Babies are very skilful at finding the smallest item on the floor and putting it straight into their mouth. 

Adapt your baby’s play activities as they age and reach new developmental stages. What can be safe for a very small baby may not be once they become a toddler and are more mobile. 

Useful Links 

Red Nose Australia 

Rasing Children 

Miracle Babies Foundation – Nurture Groups 

Harvard University

Need support? NurtureConnect allows you to connect with our NurtureProgram support team, or call our 24 hour NurtureLine 1300 622 243 or join our Facebook community.


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Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances.To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].