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Baby Learning Activities from Birth to One Year

mom reading book to baby

Babies greatly learn and benefit from exploring their environment and materials through intentional activities provided by their caregivers.

Through appropriate learning activities, babies learn to be curious and pursue goals, and they learn to trust you, their caregiver, as someone who supports their learning. They will look to you for guidance as they explore their world, and they will understand that you trust them as a capable learner. 

Through stimulating and thoughtful activities, babies will start to build their scaffolding for future learning. When squeezing and poking a sensory bag, they will be strengthening their fingers, which will one day hold a pencil in school. When listening to you reading a story, they learn the rhythms of language, print concepts, and reading comprehension.

All learning starts somewhere, and it can start with your baby right where they are and with what you have around you.

Dana Frutos

Activities with your baby don’t have to be complicated. You don’t need tons of materials you don’t already have, and you don’t need any teaching experience. Keep reading for more tips and advice on getting started.

This article will teach:

  • Tips for getting started
  • Different types of learning activities
  • Activity ideas to try with your baby
baby playing with rainbow stacking blocks

Tips for getting started with learning activities

Be prepared. 

When offering messy activities, be ready with a backup change of clothes, rags, and towels. Designate a towel in your house to be used for activities only. Be prepared to give your baby an early bath if needed. 

Try to breathe and stay calm, and know that you can always clean up a mess. If you are anxious, your child may be hesitant to explore, so do your best to keep cool. And the more you do activities, the easier it will get, and you’ll find a flow.

Give your baby time. 

Your baby may not want to touch a sensory material the first time, or they may not have an interest in something you offer. Try again a couple of days later. Never force your baby to explore something. Always follow their cues and respect the boundaries they are trying to set for themselves. The only way we can help them develop that trust and curiosity is by listening to their cues.

Take a hands-off approach.

If an activity is to pour water from one container to another, but your child is enthralled with the bubbles in the water, don’t try to micromanage what they choose to explore. You don’t have to control or correct how your baby plays. You don’t want to interfere with the learning taking place, so just let your child follow their findings.

baby learning motor skills

Different types of learning activities to try

Encourage gross motor play

Gross motor play helps strengthen the baby’s muscles, improve coordination and balance, and teach your baby to set and achieve goals, building confidence. Whatever your baby’s current level of movement is, you can implement ways to get them moving.

For babies on their stomachs or backs, put toys near them to encourage them to turn, look, reach, and roll. Once your baby learns to roll to their stomach, put toys to the front and sides to encourage them to pivot and scoot. 

Once your baby begins to scoot forward, you can put toys or other interesting objects on low shelves to encourage them to pull to stand and then gradually move the objects to higher shelves.

Place pillows on the floor or against furniture for an “obstacle course” and encourage your baby to climb over, under, or through which helps to develop body and spatial awareness.

Play music and encourage your baby to “dance.” They can clap their hands, wave their arms, shake their head, bounce up and down on their feet, or even stomp.

Try sensory play 

Sensory play teaches cause and effect, hand-eye coordination, volume, weight, problem-solving, fine motor strength and coordination, and self-regulation.

Put your baby in their high chair and offer them a wide, shallow bowl of flour, or sprinkle some flour directly on their tray. You can place some flour on the floor or a cookie sheet on the floor in front of them for younger babies.

Once they have become acquainted with flour and can grasp objects, you can incorporate plastic kitchen items to encourage raking, scooping, and pouring.

Other sensory learning materials include:

  • Oobleck (a mixture of cornstarch and water)
  • Cornmeal
  • Salt
  • Sand
  • Dried pasta or beans
  • Water
  • Fabric
  • Dry sponges
  • Cotton balls
  • Leaves

Not ready for a mess? Don’t worry; you can make a sensory bag.

Put shaving cream or cotton balls or dried pasta in a gallon zip bag and tape it to the floor on all four sides. Your child can pat, poke, press, or even step on the bag to develop their inquiry skills and fine motor skills.

Experiment with language learning

Talking to your baby teaches vocabulary and conversation dynamics such as back and forth exchanges, expressive and receptive communication, and listening.

Give your baby a language-rich environment. Describe everything around your baby and in their environment. If you speak two or more languages, speak those other languages as much as you can.

“Your blanket feels so soft.” 

“The rain is making a sound on the window.”

“Your teddy bear is brown.” 

“Daddy is wearing an orange hat on his head.” 

Describe what is happening and what you are doing to your baby. 

“I’m going to change your diaper. First, I’m going to take off your pants.” 

“It’s time to eat. I’m going to feed you.” 

As your baby grows to a young toddler, point out letters and words in the environment and books. 

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“That’s the letter T! T is for Tommy!” 

“This tells us what’s inside the box. This says macaroni.”

Encourage your baby to mimic sounds and words. When your baby babbles, return the sounds they make, and initiate them in back and forth exchanges. Once your child begins talking, talk about past and future events and ask “why” and “how” questions to develop higher-level thinking skills.

baby coloring crayons and paper

Explore creativity with art

Yes, babies can do art. Art teaches creative expression, self-regulation, fine motor skills and helps to develop investigative and concentration skills.

Start with a toxin-free, washable paint set like this one. Place younger babies (in a diaper only) on their tummy on the floor with some paint directly on a tray. You can also put them in their high chair and put paint on their tray. Let them explore the paint with their hands (remind them that paint is not for eating when they try to taste it) a few times before introducing the paper. 

After a few experiences with paint, tape some paper to their tray or to the floor. (They will be curious about the paper, so it’s ok to let them pick it up and rip it.) Put some paint on the paper and again, let them swipe, pat, press, poke and squish the paint.

Then, after a few more exposures, you can implement painting “tools” such as:

  • Paintbrushes
  • Q-tips
  • Sponge brushes
  • Sponges
  • Clothespins with cotton balls
  • Sticks
  • Fly swatters
  • Plastic Lego blocks

Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what you can come up with!

Cozy up and read a book

Reading to your baby teaches them to appreciate and love books as they grow. Reading teaches your child print concepts such as turning pages left to right and that the words on the page have meaning. Reading develops their vocabulary, reading comprehension, listening, and reasoning skills and ignites their imagination.

Lay your baby on the floor on their back and prop up books to the right and left of them. Encourage your baby to look to their sides to see the books (which will also help them learn to roll). Or when your baby is on their stomach, open a book and place it on the floor in front of them. Point to the pictures and label them. Talk to your baby about what is happening. 

Older babies can begin to explore books themselves. Don’t worry about them holding the book improperly or not turning any pages. Allow them to manipulate the book themselves in some instances while you point out pictures and name vocabulary. 

On other occasions, you can “lead” storytime by holding the book and reading the story. Read the words, but then stop occasionally to point out an object familiar to your baby and relevant to their experiences. Point to the faces in the book and talk about the emotions the characters are feeling. Talk about the story’s events, the problem, and the solution, and make predictions about what might happen next.

mom reading book to baby

Final thoughts on baby learning activities

The most important thing to remember is not to take any baby activities too seriously. It never needs to be an ordeal that leaves anyone stressed out. Just let your baby play and let yourself and your baby have fun.

A note from the editor: if you are interested in personalized age-based play kits without the stress, check out what Lovevery offers. You’ll find heirloom-quality toys and activities for your little one from birth and beyond. To make it even easier, the play kits are shipped straight to your door every two to three months.

Read more on baby development and growth

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