Best Baby Learning Games to Play That Stimulate Brain Development

Your sweet baby is home and between those moments of tenderness when you’re cuddling and swooning at their undeniable cuteness - comes playtime. It can be hard for parents to get creative beyond the classics with playtime, while also encouraging baby to learn and develop important motor skills during play.

We’re here to help give you some guidance on what baby development milestones are happening month by month, and give you inspiration with some great games to play with baby throughout those important stages of development in their first twelve months. Baby is growing each day and you’re learning new things about parenthood with them. Every baby is unique and has their own way of learning and developing, so enjoy each accomplishment no matter when they happen.

Activities for Baby: 0-3 Months

Infant Development: What’s Happening With Baby? 

During their first three months, infants are absorbing all of the new sights, smells, and sounds around them. In these months, you’ll start to see baby develop their sensory skills like sight and hearing. Baby will also initiate emotional responses to let you know when they need something.

Infants begin to show their curiosity for life early on, but you’ll notice that your baby will find comfort in your touch and smile - especially when they’re overwhelmed by the world around them. Keep this in mind as they’re experiencing new places and feelings throughout their growth.

What kind of development should I focus on with my 0-3 month old?

During their first few months you’ll really want to focus on encouraging baby to learn and embrace their curiosity. Introducing them to new places, faces, colors, and textures will be your main focus during these first months. Baby will still be working hard to develop their motor and cognitive skills - so we’ll start to introduce more educational and physical games a little later. For now, you’ll really want to just spend as much time with baby as possible and help familiarize them with new things.

For newborns 0-3 months old, let’s focus on infant activities that encourage motor skills and sensory exploration.

Best Games to Play with My 0-3 Month Old Baby

Motor Skills

  • Tummy time! Lay baby on their tummy for a few minutes at a time to encourage motor skill development, and help them build strength.
  • Gently move baby’s hands and feet with clapping and kicking motions.

Sensory Exploration

  • Smile at baby and make sure each parent spends a lot of face time with baby as they’ll start to recognize you in the latter half of their first three months. Baby will start to look at your reactions to things and base their emotional responses on your expression - so go ahead and introduce them to basic emotions (happy, sad, silly) by making exaggerated facial expressions.
  • Who’s that in the mirror? Introduce baby to their reflection by spending some time looking in the mirror. Point to baby’s reflection and say their name to encourage them to start recognizing themselves and eventually their name. Point to your reflection to help baby start to recognize you.
  • Hang a mobile with different colors and patterns above baby’s crib to introduce them to new shades and movement - this can also be a great way to soothe baby.

  • Baby is comforted by your familiar voice - give them some early music education, and sing a song you love, or sing a lullaby to baby before bedtime.
  • Talk to baby often - speak in a high-pitched tone or “mama voice” to get their attention.
  • Introduce baby to new smells by diffusing small amounts of natural essential oils. Citrus, chamomile, and lavender all have calming effects that may also act as a bonus during baby’s fussy times. Don’t have an oil diffuser? Simply dilute your essential oil with a carrier oil like coconut oil and put a small amount on your hand, and let baby smell. Remember, essential oils are extremely potent so a teeny drop goes a long way - especially when smell is new for baby!
  • Letting baby smell your food during dinner time will also expose them to unique smells and show them eating behaviors.
  • Introduce baby to new textures by playing with different fabrics and items after bath time when their skin is most sensitive and receptive to touch (soft, scratchy, warm).
  • This Little Piggy is a great, classic developmental game that incorporates touch, language, and plenty of laughs.
  • Bath time bubbles- have fun with baby during bathtime by incorporating toys, playing with bubbles, and exploring water with gentle splashes.

Activities for Baby: 3-6 Months

Infant Development: What’s Happening With Baby

By the end of baby’s first three months, they’ll start to express emotion through smiles when they’re having fun, and fussiness when they need something. They’ll start recognizing sounds and will likely be fascinated by faces and patterns. Baby will have gained some motor skills like being able to hold their head up - but motor skills will really start to develop quickly between three and six months.

They will also start to show more cognitive and emotional skills like reacting to familiar faces, sights, and sounds like their own name. This is a really exciting time to watch baby grow so quickly.

What kind of development should I focus on with my 3-6 month old?

Your 3-6 month old is getting used to new sights around them, and you’re feeling more comfortable as a new parent too - so let’s start focusing on learning, movement, and socializing. Feel free to continue using the infant activities for 0-3 month olds as they continue to grow - you can think of these as building blocks to work from at every stage.

Best Games to Play with My 3-6 Month Old Baby

Educational Games

  • Start introducing baby to stories by reading short stories with pictures. Interactive books are great ways to teach baby to associate sounds and textures with specific objects. Animal books with sounds are a great way to combine sound with recognizable pictures.
  • Play magician with baby’s favorite toys - show baby a toy or object and introduce it, say, “Ball.” Hide the ball under a blanket and ask baby “Where is the ball?” Encourage baby to point out where the ball is, and when they find it celebrate their seeking skills by saying “Here’s the ball, you did it!” This will help them start to recognize basic words and give them a mini-puzzle to encourage cognitive development. Peekaboo is another classic game to have fun with here too.

Motor Skills

  • Continue to place baby on back and tummy - now for longer periods of time, about an hour per day (broken up into a few chunks). Once they become comfortable here, encourage them to roll between back and tummy by guiding them with your hands or placing blankets and toys around their crib or bassinet to give them a little push.
  • Start introducing baby to new toys. Babies love to explore using their mouths, so let baby play with new toys by using their mouth and tongue, just make sure the toy is big enough to protect them from choking.

Emotional and Social Skills

  • Keep introducing baby to your loved ones, and point them out in photos while saying their names to encourage baby to become familiar with new faces.
  • Storytime- talk to baby about your day or tell them a story using exaggerated facial expressions to encourage them to recognize different emotions. Most importantly, have fun and laugh with baby.

6-9 Months

Infant Development: What’s Happening With Baby

Baby’s fine motor skills at 3 months will include turning their head to familiar sounds and voices, moving their hands and arms together, and lifting their head from the floor when lying down. Now we’ll see baby starting to make more sounds and expressions of their own, and start to gain more strength to stand with support.

What kind of development should I focus on with my 6-9 month old?

During the 6-9 month stage, you’ll want to continue to build on developing those fine motor skills with the goal of baby standing with help, and rolling on their own. You’ll also want to explore more cognitive and language activities to get them ready for their first words. These infant games can are great ways to encourage development, and spend some quality time with baby.

Best Games to Play with My 6-9 Month Old Baby

Motor Skills

  • Your 6-9 month old baby is going to start wanting to really explore on their own with their newfound motor skills. Once you’ve baby-proofed your home, let baby do some guided crawling. Encourage them to keep moving by placing toys at greater distances and cheer them on as they crawl toward the toy. Help baby build leg strength by gradually increasing the amount of time they stand with your help.
  • Traveling with baby is a great way to introduce them to new spaces. Set up a safe area for them to explore with pillows, blankets, and toys. A versatile travel crib is a perfect setup for exploration while you’re on-the-go.

Emotional and Social Skills

  • Say baby’s name often. Your baby is starting to develop memory between 6-9 months and will start responding to their own name by the end of this developmental stage. Replace a word in various nursery rhymes with their name to familiarize baby with the sound of their name.
  • Hello, chatterbox! Start teaching baby to say “hello” and “buh-bye,” and repeat this often when you’re seeing friends and family, at the grocery store, or in the car. 

9-12 Months

Infant Development: What’s Happening With Baby

Baby’s about to turn one, and you can’t believe how fast time has flown by and how much your little one has grown. Maybe baby has learned a handful of words, or perhaps you’re still awaiting that magical moment. Not to worry, every baby develops at their own pace - and watching them learn through play makes parenting so fun and rewarding.

By the time baby turns one, they should be able to stand without support for 1-2 minutes, say at least one word, recognize and understand the meaning of “no,” and use their hands to move objects.

What kind of development should I focus on with my 9-12 month old?

Since baby’s memory and cognitive processing has started to develop, during these 9-12 months we can start having fun with more educational games and introduce them to even more new experiences.

Best Games to Play with My 9-12 Month Old Baby

Educational Games

  • Continue to introduce baby to new objects and help them develop memory by repeatedly naming objects, like body parts, and ask them to point out the object you talk about. Another great way to do this is by creating photo flashcards with animals, foods, and family members on them. Start going through 2-3 at a time and use your “mama voice” to exaggerate words and get baby’s attention.

Motor Skills

  • Get groovy - put on some fun music at home and dance with baby! Bounce them to the beat, and support them as they’re standing to encourage walking motions as they groove to their favorite tunes.
  • Clean up, clean up. Practice picking up objects with baby by dropping toys and helping baby pick them back up. The Clean Up song is a great way to make this activity fun - try singing in goofy voices to get some extra laughs from baby. Stackable blocks are a fun and easy option to incorporate in the clean up game.

12+ Months

Infant Development: What’s Happening With Baby

Baby has spent some time getting to know how their body works, and they’re starting to walk on their own. You and baby are both learning about their personality, their likes and dislikes, and baby is quickly learning how to communicate wants and needs.

Use these infant development activities to encourage baby to communicate with you and others, and continue to learn. Remember, use this guide as building blocks - continue to incorporate activities you learned in the previous development stages to improve motor skills and communication.

What kind of development should I focus on with my 12+ month old?

Have fun with imagination, interactive games, and physical activities as baby passes their first birthday.

Best Games to Play with My 12+ Month Old Baby

Educational Games

  • Read colorful block books with baby daily. Reading the same book multiple times is a great way to encourage memory development, and when your baby reaches their reading age from 4-7 years old, they’ll likely read their first words from a familiar book. Encourage baby to participate by asking them to point out familiar objects.
  • Block puzzles are a great way to stimulate memory and problem solving while also practicing fine motor skills as they continue to practice using their hands in more challenging motions.

Motor Skills

  • Continue to let baby play on their own by creating safe spaces for them to experience new textures, sounds, feelings, and build strength.
  • Have baby practice walking without your help by giving them a push or pull toy to encourage them to walk.
  • Amazing Race Baby Challenge- set up a mini obstacle course with objects around the house to encourage baby to develop spatial awareness. As you cheer baby on, they’ll start to learn to reach, climb, crawl, and walk while having fun. Make their accomplishment special by celebrating big!
  • Baby Picasso- set up a creative space for older babies with big paper and oversized crayons to inspire their inner artist.

Baby Development Month by Month

Every baby is different - they all have their own unique ways to explore, learn, and grow. Encourage baby to have fun and embrace their curiosity by having fun with them. Celebrate those milestones, no matter how early or late they happen. The most important thing you can do is show baby how much you love them, and teach them how to love and be strong on their own as they grow each day.