Baby Gym: Activities You Can Do With Infants at Home
Susan Izatt is an Early Childhood, Infant and Toddler Development expert and the Director and Co-founder of now-closed MoonSoup Early Childhood Studio. With years of experience playing with and teaching babies, Susan certainly knows how to get babies moving and make it fun. She agreed to share some activity ideas that parents can easily do at home with their babies excerpted from her upcoming book New Moms & First Time Dads. Thanks, Susan!
You can easily do these activities with your baby at home. They are something fun for you and the baby – plus they are great for the baby’s overall development! All you need is a large rubber ball, beach ball or even a smaller Pilates ball. As long as the ball is sturdy enough to take the baby’s weight and is 12 inches or more in height.
Overall Developmental Benefits: Vestibular Stimulation; Balance; Spatial Orientation; Depth Perception; Hand Eye Coordination; Neck Strength; Midriff strength
Tummy Time: An extra benefit of much of this ball play is it can be a more engaging (fun!) and comfortable way for some babies to spend time on their tummy.
Start With Rocking:
You can do this with a younger baby – just use less range of movement with the ball for rocking with a younger baby
- Lay baby on her tummy on top of the ball facing you (you should be sitting on the floor)
- Holding Baby at her waist securely the entire time
- Rock baby back and forth; smile and make eye contact so she feels secure
- Benefits: Balance, Vestibular Stimulation, Bonding
Don’t enhance or interfere with the baby’s efforts; let her naturally try to lift her head more as you rock her forward. And if she is not lifting her head yet, the rocking motion alone is a great workout for her vestibular system and balance development.
Do for as long as baby is comfortable and tolerant with the time on her tummy.
Add Reaching & Grasping:
Once you see your baby is lifting his head more and reaching and grasping more, you can try this adjustment:
- Place a bright “grab-able” baby toy about 6-10 inches in front of the ball
- Lay baby on his belly facing away from you (you should be sitting on the floor)
- Hold baby securely at his waist the entire time
- Roll baby back and forth to be within reach of the toy
- Watch as the baby starts to try to reach for the toy
- Benefits: Hand Eye Coordination, Proprioceptive Stimulation
Roll Forward More…
Add this when your baby already has more neck and upper body strength. Be sure you support the baby’s weight, hold on to the baby securely the entire time.
- Place the bright baby toy a few inches further away in front of the ball
- Lay baby on his tummy on top of the ball facing you (you should be sitting on the floor)
- Hold baby securely with both hands at his middle/chest area, under his armpits the entire time
- Roll baby back and forth – going further forward than before
- Watch as baby reaches out forward a bit for the floor or the toy (hand eye coordination)
- Continue rocking – going further towards floor as you go (this works depth perception as the baby sees the floor move closer then further away)
- Always support the babies weight with a firm hold
- Benefits: Depth Perception, Proprioceptive Stimulation
For Babies Who Are Already Sitting Up On Their Own:
If you baby is already sitting up a bit you can add this. Use your hands to make a secure girdle to support his midriff and to hold him securely in place
- Sit the baby on his bottom, centered on top of the ball, facing you (you should be sitting on the floor)
- Hold the baby firmly at his waist and rock him side to side and back and forth
- You do not have to go very far side to side; a little rocking goes a long way; watch for the baby’s tolerance – most babies love rocking side to side
- Benefits: Midriff Strength, Neck Strength, and more for Balance (it’s good to work balance from this different position)
Add A Little Bounce:
Once your baby also has more neck strength, and holds her head up well, and is already sitting up well, you can add this bouncing
- Sit facing the baby, firmly holding his waist with both hands the entire time
- Make eye contact as you bounce the baby
- Use small, gentle bounces only
- Benefits: Fun! Bonding, Soothing. (Bouncing can be great way to sooth a fussy baby – experiment with your bouncing rhythm – just be sure to keep the bounces small and gentle and to maintain eye contact as you bounce. Tip: Babies are either in the mood for ball bouncing or not – if your baby is not settling down with ball bouncing, pick her up and try rocking or bouncing her in your arms instead. )
Make It Social! Have second ball for another baby and parent to join you. Follow the same instructions as above - just do everything with the babies facing each other as you rock them sitting up or lying on their tummies, or bounce them facing each other.
These activities are great fun for babies! See which ones your baby enjoys the most and let the baby’s comfort dictate how long to do these exercises and ball play. As always, check with your pediatrician about your baby’s readiness for any new activities, and to see if there are any reasons to avoid this type of physical play with your baby.