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Games like patty-cake have lasted through the years because they work so well with and offer so much to infants.  They provide opportunities for social interaction, imitation, touch, rhythmic awareness, and yet another chance for baby to hear your voice.  Following are other games you can play with your little one.  But, first, here are a few points to keep in mind when deciding what and when to play.

•As you choose activities to do with your baby, consider providing a variety of opportunities based on her level of skill development.  You'll want to select activities she can easily master, as well as those that provide practice in areas still developing.  Remember, too, that repetition is essential in early childhood.  Repeat your baby's favorite activities as often as possible.  You'll tire of them long before she will!

•While you're playing, use language with the baby – describing what you're doing and what he's doing or seeing and delighting in his accomplishments.  Not only will this provide motivation; it will also promote your baby's language development.

•Some babies prefer a quiet approach to activity while others prefer a higher level of stimulation, which will affect the nature of your playtime.  Your baby may even alternate between the two, responding one time to a subdued style and another time to a more vigorous one.  Be sensitive to your infant's moods and energy levels.  Plan to play only when she's well-rested and happy, and sense when she's had enough.

Here are some activities, with titles indicating the developmental skill primarily addressed.

Visual Tracking.  Provide your baby with bright, colorful objects to watch.  Finger puppets or a brightly colored sock placed on your hand can be used to gain and keep the baby's attention.  Slowly move your hand up and down, in circles, and to the right and left.  You might also play "sound" games with your baby.  Shake a rattle or other noise-producing object above the baby's head or to his side, encouraging him to locate the sound.  This provides practice with both visual tracking and sound discrimination.

Body Awareness.  Sing and demonstrate "Where Is Thumbkin?"  Play games like "This Little Piggy" with both toes and fingers.  Touch her nose, exclaiming, "I've got your nose!"  Then proceed to play the game with such other body parts as toes, ears, fingers, and legs.  When the baby's developmentally ready, ask her to find your nose, ears, mouth, and so on.

Individuation.  There's nothing like the tried-and-true game of peekaboo to help the child begin to see himself as a separate individual.  It also makes babies laugh!  Once the baby is familiar with this game, you can move on to "Where's Mommy [Daddy, Nana, etc.]?"  Begin by placing your hands over your face, just as you would with peekaboo.  Later, hide your whole self behind a piece of furniture, asking, "Where's Mommy?"  You then pop up, answering, "Here's Mommy!"

Eye-Hand Coordination.  Any activity in which the baby is reaching for or batting an object promotes eye-hand coordination.  Another option, appropriate for infants as young as three months, is to sew a bell or bells onto an elastic band that you can slip on your baby's wrists or ankles.  Once on, gently shake the body part until the baby looks at it.

Also, when your baby is able to sit unassisted, make him comfortable on the floor, legs apart.  Sit opposite him in a similar manner and roll a large, brightly colored ball toward him.  Describe what you're doing and encourage him to push it back to you.

Another possibility: Give her two large paper or plastic cups, one of which is filled with dry cereal; and encourage her to pour the cereal from one cup to the other.  Since can be a messy activity, it's best to first prepare the floor area with a large vinyl tablecloth!

Imitation.  Babies are great at mimicking, and at about ten months of age they have a greater understanding of what they're doing and really enjoy it.  Surprisingly enough, imitating is an important skill, as the ability to physically replicate what the eyes are seeing comes in handy later for things like writing and drawing.  Also, imitation helps confirm for babies that they're like other people.
Play the mirror game with your baby while sitting and facing each other.  Stick out your tongue, wiggle your fingers in your ears, wave your arms up and down, all while encouraging the baby to do likewise.  When your baby is ready to figure out how the game is played, encourage him to lead while you imitate.

Later, when your baby is mobile, "Follow the Leader" is a wonderful game to play.  It will encourage imitating and also provide practice with walking.  Be sure to vary the speed of your movements, the pathways you take (possibilities are straight, curving, and zigzagging), and your body's shape (big, small, wide, etc.).

By playing the simple games described here, and others like them, you foster an early love of physical activity, promote your child's development, and deepen the bond between you and your infant.


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