Ford column: Learning how to play with your baby

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 6, 2009

Playing with your baby can be one of the sweetest joys of parenthood.
But cavorting on the carpet and frolicking in the yard with an infant or toddler does not come naturally to everyone.
If you’re pregnant with your first child and have little experience with babies, watching veteran parents mesmerize their children with rhyme and song or elicit giggles and belly laughs with finger play can be a little intimidating.
But just like how to diaper or swaddle or nurse, you can learn how to play with your kid. And mastering the art of Here Comes a Mousey or Shoe the Little Horse is tons more fun than learning how to take a rectal temperature.
Playing with your baby is just as important as feeding or clothing the cutie pie. Play has a crucial role in a baby’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive development.
Play also helps you bond with your child. Plus, the more your baby laughs, the less she cries.
I have five pregnant or postpartum friends and relatives, my own little baby boom. After going years without attending a baby shower, I’ve enjoyed ordering artwork from Salisbury artists Emily Brinskelle and Meredith Abramson (who have the neatest baby gifts at and browsing through my collection of how-to parenting books.
I’ll hand down the books to my sister Laura, who is due in January. And who, by the way, is not the Laura whose husband learned from his dog in a dream that she was pregnant.
One of my favorites is Pat-a-Cake and Other Play Rhymes by Joanna Cole, who also wrote the Magic School Bus series.
Worn and tattered, that book stayed in my diaper bag for years and helped me turn what could have been agonizing hours on airplanes and in waiting rooms into happy memories.
Many adults are not used to breaking into song or dance or even spending time on the floor. But through nursery rhymes, silly ditties and floor play, we can reconnect with our own childhood and see the world through our baby’s eyes.
If your jig is less than graceful, your voice far from melodious, who cares? I’m sure I made some angel’s ears bleed every time I sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” but my kids loved it anyway.
Singing, even off-key, to a cranky tot can work magic.
Incorporating play throughout baby’s day will entertain junior while turning chores into enriching experiences. Elaine Martin’s book Baby Games includes songs and games for diaper changes, getting dressed, eating, quiet time, outdoors, bath time and more.
Play doesn’t have to be elaborate. My kids loved to wait in anticipation while I circled a finger above them saying, “I’m gonna bore a hole and I don’t know where, I’m gonna bore a hole right…there!” Tickling, and squeals of delight, followed. has wonderful play suggestions, and taking a Kindermusik class can give you hands-on training in songs and games.
Learning how to play with your baby benefits you both. We all played once. We just need to remember how.
Contact Emily Ford at