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How to Play with a Baby Who Doesn't Talk Back Yet

Updated: Feb 18

This blog post has been written by Lauren Brown, Child Development Expert and Creator of Busy Brains Activity Packs.

The first few months after having a baby is one of the most eye-opening experiences for both parent and child! As a parent, however much you think you’ve prepared, the reality of having a new baby can feel quite daunting at times. Not only are you expected to look after their basic needs 24/7, but you’re also responsible for playing, interacting and keeping on top of the growing pile of laundry in the washing machine!

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Playing with babies is one of the most joyful and rewarding experiences for parents and caregivers. But, it can sometimes feel challenging when your little one isn’t talking back yet. Up until around 6-8 weeks, your little one won’t intentionally make eye contact let alone provide any sort of verbal feedback, so how do you know if they are enjoying your attempts to play?

Studies have shown that newborn babies can recognise their mothers through their scent, voice and, by three months, their face. Even though they can’t return your smile until around 6 weeks, babies are hardwired to be able to tell you when they’re not happy! So, if they’re quiet, gazing in your general direction, staring blankly or turning towards you as you speak, it’s all a really good sign that they are having a wonderful time.

Newborn babies experience a whirlwind of sensory input from the moment they enter the world. While it can be easy to reach for lots of new toys to help you entertain them, keep in mind that all they really need is your love, care and attention. Spending quality time feeding, cuddling, talking, singing and touching creates thousands of new brain circuits. If you worry you’ll run out of things to say to your baby, use your senses as a guide. What can you see, hear, feel, touch and taste? Is this the same for your baby? Describe it to them so they can hear your voice while being introduced to the world around them. Show them what you can see (bear in mind their vision is their least developed sense at birth, their focal range is around 20-30cm to begin with and high contrast objects will be easiest for them to see). Let them touch the soft blanket you’re wrapped in and listen to the birds tweeting outside. Keep it simple and honestly just spend time enjoying one another’s company.

When your baby is a few months old and they’re yet to speak their first word, you’d be forgiven for wondering if any of the things you’ve been talking to your baby about is going in. If you feel this way, keep going! Research indicates that children exposed to a rich language environment from "talkative" parents tend to hear millions more words by age four, resulting in higher IQs and expanded vocabularies. One day soon, they will start to demonstrate understanding and, soon after that, you’ll begin to hear those precious first words.

educational play ideas for 0-5 year olds

There are countless ways to engage and bond with your non-verbal baby through play. In this guide, we'll explore some creative and enriching activities that will stimulate their senses, encourage development and deepen their connection.

Sensory Play: is ideal for early development. Create a sensory-rich environment by

introducing various textures, colours and sounds. Provide them with soft toys, rattles, textured balls and fabric books. Experiment with different materials like silk, fur, or fleece for tactile stimulation. Sensory play not only entertains, but also helps in cognitive and motor skill development.

Water Play: Water play is not only fun but also offers sensory stimulation and promotes physical development. Fill a shallow tub with warm water and let your baby splash and explore or blow bubbles on the surface and let your baby watch them grow and pop. Supervise closely to ensure safety at all times. Water play enhances hand-eye coordination, promotes muscle strength and offers a soothing sensory experience.

Mirror Play: Set up a safe, unbreakable mirror at your baby's eye level and watch as they interact with their reflection. Babies are fascinated by faces and this simple activity encourages self-awareness and social development. Make silly faces, smile and talk to your baby while pointing out body parts. Mirror play fosters emotional connection and helps them develop a sense of self.

Music and Movement: Music has a profound effect on babies mood and brain development. Sing nursery rhymes, play gentle lullabies or dance with your baby in your arms. Use simple instruments like shakers or tambourines to introduce rhythm and beat. Music stimulates auditory processing and language acquisition, laying the foundation for future communication skills.

Imaginative Play: Even before they can speak, babies love imaginative play. Use hand puppets or stuffed animals to enact simple stories or sing puppet songs. Engage in pretend play by using cuddly toys to ‘talk’ to your child or play hide and seek. Imaginative play sparks creativity and problem-solving skills.

Baby Yoga and Massage: Gentle yoga poses and infant massage not only promote physical development but also create a calming bonding experience. Trace your fingertip on their skin as you draw simple pictures, telling them what you’re drawing as you do so. Baby yoga and massage strengthen the parent-child bond and promote relaxation.

Reading Together: Research shows children who were read to as newborns have a larger vocabulary and more advanced mathematical skills than other kids their age. Whether you look at high-contrast black-and-white images, board books with bright colours or books with sound buttons, they are all brilliant for your child’s development. Point to objects and describe them aloud, emphasizing sounds and actions. Reading together promotes language development, attention span and a love for books from an early age.

Remember, the most important aspect of playing with a non-verbal baby is to be present, attentive and responsive to their cues. Enjoy these precious moments because every interaction, no matter how small, strengthens the bond between you and your little one. Don’t underestimate the value of what you’re doing, because although staying home and playing may feel like you’ve done very little with your day, the reality is you’ve actually done one of the most important jobs in the world.

Lauren Brown is founder of the multi award winning, Busy Brains Activity Packs, dedicated to giving parents the confidence, knowledge and ideas to create play-based activities for their babies, toddlers and children under five. Lauren is a former Primary School Deputy Headteacher and child development expert.

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