Learning to play with your baby

Pediatricians encourage child-centered play, where you follow your baby's lead.

By Daniel B. Kessler, M.D.

You might be thinking, “What’s to learn? I’ve mastered peek-a-boo!” But what you may not know is how the power of child-centered play can unlock a whole new world for your baby.

The practice of child-centered play is strongly encouraged by pediatricians because we see a significant correlation between this activity and language development, increased independence and attention span, and many other cognitive benefits for your baby.

So what exactly is child-centered play and how can you harness the benefits of play for you baby?


Child-centered play is a way for you to play with your baby where you follow her lead and pace in whatever activity she chooses. For example, if she’s blowing raspberries with her mouth, you want to imitate this same action and sound and narrate the activity for her.

By mirroring your baby’s actions, she is learning that she’s important and that you are paying close attention to what she’s doing. But it isn’t enough to simply imitate your baby as the narration and verbal description is the key to child-centered play.

The easiest way to master this is to pretend you are the color commentator or play-by-play announcer, on the baby’s interaction. Describe her actions and encourage her by saying, “Wow, you are making a raspberry. What a great raspberry!”

By describing the play, you are not only adding to her vocabulary, but you are also expanding her knowledge of colors, letters, numbers and the whole world around her.

And keep the conversation going! As she responds with noises and words of her own, verbally reflect your baby’s feelings by saying “you are having fun making noises and raspberries.”


Just five minutes a day of child-centered play can significantly benefit your baby’s language and development. Here are 10 simple steps to help you master child-centered play with your baby:

  1. Follow the child’s lead and pace in whatever activity they choose
  2. Get down on the ground with the child
  3. Imitate their play
  4. Describe their actions – “You are using green paint”
  5. Verbally reflect the child’s feelings – “You seem to enjoy the red truck”
  6. Encourage the child – “You threw that ball far”
  7. Be enthusiastic through your words and facial expressions
  8. Expand play, but do not change direction or theme of play
  9. Express interest in who they are and what they are doing
  10.  Listen and be present!

Daniel B. Kessler, M.D.

Daniel B. Kessler, M.D., is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and medical director of the Children’s Developmental Center at Easter Seals Southwest Human Development. His private practice, where he provides evaluation and treatment for children and adolescents, is located at Southwest Human Development.


One response to “Learning to play with your baby

  1. Daniel B. Kessler MD

    This is Dr. Daniel Kessler commenting on his own blog. As your child grows and her language increases it is important to be more than just an “commentator” on her play. You want to do more “serve and return.” Say something to her and wait for her to respond before you respond in kind. Commenting on her play is not enough.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s