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Movement and play: babies

3-12 months

In their first year, babies learn to lift their heads, roll over, sit, crawl, stand and walk. Play is the natural way that babies learn, and it’s one of the best ways to get your baby moving. Here are some play ideas.

Daily movement for babies: why it’s important

Playing with your baby and getting your baby moving are good activities for his development.

Play helps your baby:

  • strengthen the neck muscles that she needs to hold her head up and move it around
  • practise reaching and grasping
  • strengthen muscles for movements like rolling, crawling and pulling to stand.
You’re the thing that interests your baby most. Playing and moving with your baby is a great way to connect with your baby. You can also give your baby lots of praise and encouragement as he learns more physical skills. 

What to expect: babies and movement

At 3-6 months your baby might:

  • reach for toys and roll on to her back during tummy time
  • bring her hands to her mouth and reach for her legs and toys when lying on her back
  • try rolling from tummy to back and back to tummy.

By 6-9 months many babies like lying on their tummies rather than on their backs. When babies lie on their tummies, they can reach for toys and move around in a circle. When they’re ready, they might even try to crawl. Other things your baby might do at this age are:

  • roll from tummy to back and back to tummy
  • sit with your help or by himself
  • stand on his legs with your support.

From 9-12 months, your baby might:

  • crawl, roll and pull to stand
  • sit by herself and reach for toys without falling
  • move from a sitting position onto her tummy and back again
  • play using both hands.
The key moments in baby development generally happen in the same order, but when they happen might vary from child to child. You can find out what to expect each month in our Baby development tracker.

Tummy time

Tummy time is time your baby spends on his stomach while he’s awake. Doing tummy time from soon after birth helps your baby build neck, head and upper body strength to crawl and pull to stand when he’s older.

At first, your baby might not like tummy time – it might make your baby vomit or she might miss seeing you when she’s on her tummy. If this sounds like your little one, try tummy time on your chest or across your lap. This puts less pressure on your baby’s tummy and can help with problems like reflux. This position also lets your baby see your face.

You could also get down on the floor with your baby. Let him know you’re there by singing, talking, stroking his back or tickling his hands. Try doing tummy time on a range of surfaces, like on carpet indoors or on a blanket outside.

You can start with short periods of tummy time, and build up to several minutes a few times a day as your baby gets used to it.

Tummy time can be tiring, especially for young babies. When your baby gets tired, roll her onto her back for a break before trying again.

If your baby just doesn’t like tummy time or keeps being sick, it’s a good idea to see your child and family health nurse or GP for a check-up.

Play ideas to encourage movement

From 0-6 months, you could try the following ideas:

  • Encourage your baby to move to music and sound by making hand movements to songs, stories and rhymes, or by shaking rattles.
  • Place your baby on his tummy to play for short periods several times a day.

Babies aged 6-12 months might like the following activities:

  • Place toys just out of your baby’s reach to encourage reaching. You can also use simple toys like rattles to encourage touching and holding.
  • Give your baby wooden spoons to bang on pots and pans, or sealed containers with beads inside to shake.
  • Sit and support your baby upright on the floor, and move a ball or toy in front of her. This encourages your baby to follow the toy with her eyes, reach for it and grasp it.
  • Get your baby to try pulling to stand. You can sit him near furniture and encourage him to pull himself up to stand. Make sure that your furniture is sturdy and won’t fall over.
  • If your baby can stand with support, try push-and-pull toys like block wagons or carts.
  • Make tunnels out of chairs or cardboard boxes for your baby to enjoy crawling and moving through.

Quiet, gentle activities are also important, especially for developing your baby’s fine motor skills. For example, picking up small objects or putting pegs into a bucket is good for practising small finger movements. And when your baby spends time just looking at things like colourful books or pictures, it helps her get better at moving her eyes.

It’s best to avoid screen time for your baby. Other play activities are much better for your baby’s development.

Babies learn how things work and what they can do from practising and making mistakes. It’s normal for babies to sometimes get a few small bumps and bruises when they play. When you make your home safe, your baby can play without hurting himself.

Baby equipment and movement

Baby equipment like highchairs, car seats, strollers, jolly jumpers, cots and playpens are all useful, but they can restrict some of your baby’s movements. You might want to think about using them only when you really need them.

Baby walkers are not recommended. They can delay walking, crawling and sitting without support. They can also cause injuries if babies move into dangerous areas without supervision, like near the oven, toilet, bath and stairs. Baby playstations or activity centres are safer alternatives than baby walkers.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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