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13 Engaging Daycare Activities for Infants to Encourage Development

It’s no secret that infants develop at astounding rates during the first year of life. They are constantly reaching new milestones and learning about the world around them simply by engaging with it. Early childhood is considered a critical period for brain development, and as a caregiver, you must engage infants in activities that will boost their visual, language, and motor skills.

When parents choose a daycare for their infants, they look for a safe and nurturing environment, but they may also be interested in the curriculum or activities you will provide to encourage development. Children, especially infants, learn through play. When you develop a routine and activities for infants in your daycare, you can focus on playful activities that help infants learn how to move, communicate, socialize and learn about their world.

One of the biggest benefits of play-based activities is that they don’t require a lot of special equipment or supplies. Play-based activities can also be as involved or as casual as you need because each infant and daycare setting is different. Babies develop and reach milestones at different rates, so choose appropriate activities, adjust them for each infant’s current stage, or file them away for later use when your infants are a little older.

Sensory Activities for Infants

Sensory activities for infants should encourage listening skills, visual tracking, touching, and feeling. Food and dietary needs vary greatly for infants, so any meals or tasting activities should ideally be care-planned with parents first.

1. Mirror, Mirror

For an easy visual activity, you only need a baby-safe mirror. Show the baby their reflection. Let them point, coo, or touch the mirror. Ask questions like “Who is that?” or “Where’s Baby?” (using Baby’s name, of course). You can also put simple toys (dog, cat, etc.) in front of the mirror and ask similar questions. This will also help them with word association and vocabulary.

Other activities to do with mirrors include making funny faces and seeing if the infant can mimic you, naming body parts (Baby’s eyes, Baby’s nose, etc.), or playing simple games like Peek-A-Boo.

2. Repeat After Me

You will be repeating after the baby! When they are in a good mood, babies make all kinds of coos, giggles, and noises. Repeat after the baby, and allow them to delight in the sounds.

3. Making Music

Music is beneficial to children of all ages, and music can help babies with auditory and speech development, which can improve vocabulary and creativity. There are many ways to incorporate music into babies’ day. You can sing to them or play classical music in the background during other activities.

It is also important for them to experiment with sound and music. Give them safe, supervised time with rattles or children’s instruments like maracas, egg shakers, tambourines, xylophones, rain sticks, hand bells, hand drums, or whatever you have. Let them mimic your movements with the instruments or shake, rattle, and roll at their own pace. If you have a mixed-aged daycare, preschoolers can even make homemade instruments to share with the infants.

4. Texture Time

Introduce different textures to infants for a unique sensory experience. You can use large swatches of different types of fabric to make texture mats, similar to carpet mats. Try a variety of fabrics, like corduroy, denim, velvet, wool, and fleece, and use these for tummy time or other floor games. Alternatively, you might use smaller scraps of fabric to make bean bags for older infants to toss in gross-motor activity games.

Gross Motor Activities for Infants

Gross motor skills are activities that involve large muscles and the whole body. Gross motor activities for infants include sitting, standing, crawling, lifting, throwing, kicking, rolling, and eventually walking as they transition into toddlerhood. Helping infants develop gross-motor skills is an important role for daycare providers.

5. Active Singing

We can’t stress enough how important music is, and how easily it is to weave into your routine. Sit down at their level and show them the motions to active children’s songs such as:

  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes
  • The Wheels on the Bus

Eventually, they will start to repeat the motions which will engage different muscles.

6. Follow the Leader

Play a simple game of Follow the Leader with babies by encouraging them to copy you. Stretch your arms above your head and see if they will repeat the action. Clap your hands, put your hands on your head, bang the floor, or tap your knees. With older infants who are more mobile, try standing up, sitting down, squatting, making kicking motions, or stomping your feet. In addition to strengthening gross motor skills, they will also be developing body awareness and memory skills.

7. Obstacle Course

If you have older infants that crawl, scoot, and move around independently, create a safe obstacle course. Items that you already have in your daycare for play or crafts work well for this. Foam or cardboard block towers make simple obstacles that they can crawl around. Use a pillow, a stuffed animal, or even a pool noodle to create an obstacle for the baby to climb over. You can add your texture mats to the obstacle court as well. If you don’t have a children’s tunnel, open both sides of a large box so the baby can crawl through it. You can even add streamers made of crepe paper on one end for a celebratory finish.

Fine Motor Activities for Infants

Fine motor skills involve the small muscles of the hands, and fine motor activities for infants involve a lot of grasping, picking up, dropping, and alternating items between their hands. Encouraging the development of fine motor skills now will make it easier for children in the future when it comes to handling cutlery, brushing teeth, tying shoes, and writing.

8. Tray of Toys

Set out a small tray with a few toys. Encourage your infants to reach for the toys, pick them up, and set them back down for a new toy. Use objects of different shapes and sizes, so they can figure out when they need to use two hands. Pick up a toy and offer a trade. Choosing and manipulating toys will require a lot of hand-eye coordination, which also encourages cognitive development.

9. Play Ball

Most infants love playing with balls, so keeping balls of different sizes and textures in your daycare is a good idea. You can encourage them to roll or drop the ball or toss it back and forth to you. Find a small container for them to drop the ball into and retrieve. Squishy balls will allow them to squeeze and manipulate the ball, working different muscles. Playing with balls is also an easy parallel play activity for older infants who can sit next to or across from each other.

10. Endless Tissue Box

Infants seem to love pulling tissues or baby wipes out of their containers. Give them their own version by taking an empty tissue box and filling it with fabric scraps. As they are pulling out the fabric and stuffing it back into the container, they are working on those fine motor skills, as well as exploring textures and promoting curiosity.

Cognitive Activities for Infants

Cognitive activities for infants help develop memory, listening, language, thinking, understanding, and reasoning skills. At this age, almost every activity you do with infants helps develop their cognitive skills, but you can be intentional about choosing activities specifically for language and memory development.

11. Read-Aloud Time

The value of reading aloud to children of all ages cannot be overstated. Listening to books is imperative to helping children develop early literacy skills. Keep a diverse selection of books available. You can read short, fun books during storytime, or longer books during quiet time or before naps just so they can hear the language and listen to the soothing sounds of your voice.

12. Hide and Find

A simple version of a hide and find game is to mostly hide a toy or object under a blanket or behind you, or a piece of furniture. Infants will likely be working out a mental recreation of the full object and will have to determine how to reach it.

13. Hide and Find Memory Game

Another hide and find game is to use the traditional “item under 3 cups” game. Start simply, by placing the item under one cup and letting the child pick it up. You can increase to two and three cups as they are ready, and eventually, start sliding the cups around slowly to encourage visual tracking and memory. Tell them what you are doing during the process, “I am putting the blue ball under the red cup” to boost listening and understanding.

Make Sure Infants Can Thrive at Your Child Care

As a daycare provider, you play an important role in the safety and development of the infants in your care. Creating an environment where they can be mentally and physically stimulated through fun, engaging, and beneficial activities is crucial.

To aid you in providing a quality learning environment for infants of all stages of development, Wonderschool offers resources for daycare providers and preschools to give child-centered and growth-minded care. Quality, early education options should be available in every neighborhood, and our mission is to help you create that space for the families in your community. For more information, contact us today!