Developmental Activities For The First Five Years
These simple developmental activities for infants, toddlers and preschoolers will help your child during the most important years of their life: the first 5 years of life.
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
The first 5 years of your child’s life is the most important time for childhood development and really sets the trajectory for the rest of his or her life. Ninety percent of your child’s brain develops in the first 5 years, and with that fun fact, it’s pretty clear that all moms need to know how important the first 5 years are. You want to be the best mom you can be, and you want your child to grow up to be someone you can be proud of. So what can you do to ensure you are doing the right things for your child’s development?
The quick and easy answer is be present and be responsive. The more quality time you spend with your child, the better. But honestly, there’s more to it than that.
Developmental activities play a huge roll in your child’s overall development.
The Huffington Post says:
“The key is to maximize the learning capacity of children in their formative years through mental stimulation, attention, encouragement, love and good healthcare. Expose your child to different activities to help them activate synaptic connections to maximum areas of the brain. This will allow children to acquire new knowledge, learn new skills, and set and achieve goals for themselves.”
Choosing The Best Developmental Activies For The First Five Years Of Life
I have 4 kids of my own, and I was practically a stay-at-home mom. I worked less than part time, but when I was out working, my husband was home with our girls. We are very present parents. And we view development during the first 5 years of our child’s life as a priority over a lot of other things in our house.
There was a time when our 4 kids were all under the age of 5, so we definitely have a good feel for what it’s like to stimulate our children with educational developmental activities for play during all stages of life in the younger years.
I want to share with you my all time favorite developmental activities for kids ages 0-5. These developmental activities are highly stimulating and great for language, social and motor development for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
Developmental Activities For Infants: 0-6 Months
Here is a list of ways that you can help your baby to thrive developmentally in the earlier months of birth. Listed are some examples but you can be creative with your mommy talents to come up with new ways to interact with your baby.
1. Eye to eye contact
-Spend time changing your child’s diaper and looking them right in the eye and smile
-Sit your baby on your lap with their head looking in the direction of yours
2. Describing what I am doing, verbal interaction
-Tell a story to your child about how you are changing their diaper while doing diaper changes
-Talk to your baby about what you see at the grocery store
3. Putting my child in front of a mirror
-My favorite activity is positioning my baby in front of a floor length mirror while doing tummy time or just holding my baby right in front of a mirror (close up)
4. Showing my infant books or albums of real pictures of other babies and people (no art work)
-I like to walk my baby around the house and show her pictures that are hanging on the wall, especially of her Daddy since he’s at work a lot and she doesn’t see him as often as she sees me
5. Massage or physical contact (cuddling, kissing, holding, skin to skin)
-Do this ALL DAY, hold your baby, make an effort NOT to put your baby in the swing all day (minimize swing time to less than 20 minutes at a time)
-Massage your baby with lotion after baths
-Wear tank tops where your skin is exposed so your baby can feel you when you hold them
6. Reading books with inflection in your voice
-Be enthusiastic when reading fun board books. Make it exciting and pretend like you are reading to a 5 year old
7. Singing and dancing together
-Hold your baby close and stand up, put on some good music and dance gently around the room. Your baby loves to hear your voice. It doesn’t have to be a nursery rhyme; pick your favorite tune!
8. Floor time together (exercise, tummy time)
-This is so important. I have noticed a significant improvement in my child’s muscle development by doing this more often throughout the day. Get your play mat out and a yoga mat and start doing your exercises together. It’s a great way to bond and of course achieve the added bonus of getting your workout in for the day (Click here for floor exercises with your baby)
Developmental Activities For 6-12 Month Old Babies
Use these fun and creative ideas to help your 6-12 month old reach his milestones faster and have fun while doing it.
-Find a variety of books that are age appropriate. Board books with bright colors, images of other babies and common objects are great examples to start with. My favorite books are the Hello Highlights books. You want a variety of books that have simple words and labeling but also stories with longer sentence structures. Books with questions mixed into the text are beneficial for learning. Rhyming books are also a hit for babies at this age.
2. Floor time together, play time
-Focus on fine motor skill development. Continue to make floor time more playful, incorporate tickling and playing with bigger objects and toys. Pick toys that are still educational and beneficial to skill development like blocks, shape sorters, musical toys and balls specifically designed for baby’s tiny grip.
3. More involved physical activity
-Progressing from sitting to standing with pull to stand, tummy time to crawling and standing to walking. Work on gross motor skills
4. Massage or physical contact, cuddling
-Just keep cuddling – every day and every moment you get
5. Tickle time, giggling time
-Make an effort every day to make your child laugh-it is as easy as that!
6. Singing and dancing
-Start to find some fun songs for little kids that have a good beat to it but also a good message. Start now finding your top hits list for little kids. I love Dora the Explorer for dancing music. They also make some really good personalized CD’s that have fun songs with your kid’s name in it.
7. Feed your kids healthy, nutritious food to help with growth
-Since this is the age to start introducting solids, you want to make sure that you are doing all you can to give your child a great start to good nutritious options for food. A great option is to make your own homemade organic baby food. It’s super quick, easy and really a great way to save money on your baby food budget.
Developmental Activities For Toddlers: 12-24 Months
Your baby doesn’t seem like a newborn anymore. It’s time to start introducing some “big kid” activities into his or her play time. Try doing some of these.
1. Reading and story time, talking together
-When reading a story, take the time to be more interactive with the story. Find books that have flaps, sliding doors and other more complex concepts within the book. Be sure to cuddle close to your child and strive for a goal of 30 minutes of reading time now that your kid is getting older and can sit for longer periods.
2. Magnetic Drawing Boards
-This is a great start to learning how to hold a pencil. The magnetic drawing board come with a large grip pen which is great for early fine motor development. I love this non-messy option for this age especially when everything else drawing and coloring seems so messy.
3. Toy play time: Blocks, puzzles, nesting blocks, shape sorters
-Kids at this age are really going to start enjoying puzzles for the first time. My favorite type of puzzle to get for a child at this age are the puzzles that makes noise when you put the piece in the right place. Also the puzzles with the peg holders are easier and less frustrating for the child. Melissa & Doug make a great set of puzzles for the earlier learner.
–Nesting blocks can be fun in so many ways. You can stack them, count them, collapse them and play peekaboo games with them by putting other toys under the blocks to hide. This is a great option for children that will last for several years.
4. Music time (dancing, singing, instruments)
-For the girls, buy a couple cute ballerina or gymnastics outfits for them to have fun dancing around in. For the boys, buy some kids sized drums or a guitar. Hey, you might as well get the girls an instrument too. They all love microphones. The louder, the better for the child. They love to hear the feedback of their voice projecting through the toy.
5. Sports, physical play and cuddle time
-Introduce some gentle sports with your little one at an early age. It’s great for gross motor development. I’m not talking about signing him up for an organized sport, but start introducing mini versions of the sports balls. Get a small soccer ball and start kicking it around the room. Get a mini soft basketball and toss it into the laundry basket for fun.
-Now that your baby is getting stronger, your baby can enjoy a bit of rough and tumble play. Get on the floor and let him tackle you. Gently tackle him back with a bit of tickle thrown in there. Be sure to cuddle at the end for your cool down!
6. Start to incorporate work ideas into everyday life skills
Even at the young age of 1 your baby can have fun turning on and off the light switch. Your 18 month old may enjoy picking up the trash off the floor and putting it into the trash can. Buy a mini broom and teach your little one to sweep along side you. These are fun ways to incorporate work skills into your child’s young life. Your baby thinks it’s fun and games, but you know that your are instilling a great work ethic into your little one’s DNA!
7. Play with friends, play dates, social interactions
Your baby is recognizing new faces now, and it’s a great time to teach your baby how to interact with other children his age. Don’t teach the concept of sharing quite yet, it’s still too early for that but just side by side play is all you need to focus on. It’s important that young children understand that it’s not just he and mommy in the world, but a lot of other people too! This will make it an easier transition when it comes to toddler play time.
Developmental Activities For Preschoolers: 2-5 Years Old
I encourage you to continue the same as above plus add these following suggestions…
1. Role playing
This is a great age for make believe! Dress up and put on a show. Act out your favorite story from the Bible. Go on an adventure, get some props like binoculars and a map and search for hidden treasure. Kids at this age love creativity!
Time to get a bit messy with some Play-Doh. It’s such a great way to develop strength and fine motor skills at the same time. Also, there are some really good cookie cutter shaped Play-Doh sets that are color coordinated and fabulous for educational play.
3. Encourage thinking and problem solving
I love to challenge my little toddler and preschool aged kids with questions as if they are trying to solve a mystery. If he so happens to have his left shoe on but can’t find his right shoe, challenge him to think back 1 or 2 steps as to where it might be. Give him hints and clues as to where you might have seen it last. Have him find it on his own as if he was solving the mystery.
4. Teach work skills and how to earn money
There’s no harm into starting young. You child will learn to enjoy working and strive to work hard if at an earlier age he understands that hard work gets rewarded with money. Give your child small jobs such as taking his plate off the table and putting it on the counter by the kitchen sink, dusting the living room with a cloth or putting away the kids’ plates after the dishwasher is all clean. Again, your child will learn to think work is fun if you start early in life.
A great product that I love to use with my children is the Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Junior Kit. It’s an all inclusive kit that helps parents teach kids as early as age 3 how to earn money, save their money, give and spend. These are all life skills that later in life your child will be grateful you taught them.
5. Increase play dates and play time with other kids
Social development is so important at this age. As your child gets closer to preschool age, it’s vital that your kid learns how to interact with and be kind to other kids. Teach your kids manners and how to share while in the presence of their mommy before they enter the school yard.
6. Encourage your child to do the “everyday skills” for themselves
-It’s time for your baby to grow up and become an independent little person! What skills do you want your kid to learn so that you can spend your energy as a mom in other more important areas? Do you want your kid to start feeding himself? Do you want her to get dressed by herself? Do you think you kid is ready to wipe herself after going potty? Start creating a list of the important things and teach your child to start doing it on his own now, otherwise, they will become very dependent on you in their later years.
7. Give meaning to your child’s talking by listening and responding to your children
-This is important for you, mom (and dad) to devote time to listening to your child. Your child is learning new words and sentences every day, but they don’t know if they are saying the right things if they don’t get a response from you. Give them reassurance and positive feedback after they speak. Even if it doesn’t sound right or maybe it doesn’t make sense, just respond positively and promptly. Your child needs this for language development and won’t get it anywhere else except through you at home.
8. Cook and educate your child on health foods – they will also start to learn basic math through measuring
This is a life skill. We all need to eat and we need to cook in order to eat, right? So do you want your child to grow up to rely on fast food or would you rather him being a decent chef in his own kitchen? I like the later. Start young, have him beside you while your cooking and give him small jobs. Holding the measuring spoon, dumping the ingredients, stirring. You child will learn to love to cook.
You may also want to get them their own cooking set that is just the perfect size for their tiny hands. They will feel like a real chef right along side mommy.
9. Increase the sports activities to challenge your children to be more physically healthy
Typically around age 3 you can sign up your child for an organized sport. Dance, tumbling and soccer are all great early sports for 3+ year olds. And even if you don’t want to sign your child up for a sport, devote regularly scheduled time at home, let’s say every Tuesday and Saturday mornings, you go outside and throw a ball. The more you practice, the better your child will get.
10. Age appropriate discipline, teach house rules (click here for house rules and guidelines), core values for your family
Your child is absorbing everything like a sponge at this age. Take advantage of this time and hone in on those core family values now before it’s too late. Discipline your child with a consistent discipline technique. Teach your child 5 main house rules and focus on those primary rules for the house, no if, ands or buts! Make sure you and your spouse are consistent and are on the same page with your parenting style and with your beliefs and values. This will set the tone for your house and for your child’s entire life.
11. Incorporate a lot of crafts and art to increase the creativity within your child
Creativity is important for development, and what better way to be more creative than with arts and crafts? Find out what your child loves the most, and incorporate those activities regularly throughout the month. Some favorites for children at this age are watercolor paints, crayons, large washable markers, coloring books, stickers, glue sticks and construction paper.
12. Play games with your children which will help them to learn to share and take turns
Playing games with children at this age can be difficult, but if you choose the right one, it can be great for their development. It helps teach basic life skills such as sharing, following directions and how not to be a sore loser. Some of my favorites are the games Roll & Play, Sequence for Kids and Daniel Tiger’s Welcome To Mainstreet game. These three games are great options because they are not competitive in nature.
13. Teach about schedules and time, dates, calendar
Your child will learn to thrive on schedules, and with that her temperament will be more predictable. Your child feels good knowing what comes next in the day-to-day routine. Teach her your schedule for the day. Make it easy to understand and give new names to places. For example, rather than calling the daycare at the gym the “daycare”, call it “The Play Gym” and make it a fun and exciting place to go 3 days a week. Teach your child what time is the correct “wake up” time in the morning and the desired bedtime every night. Eventually your child will grow up understanding the concept of time and schedules much more.
Your Role As A Parent Is More Important Than Developmental Activities
If you want to know the most impactful thing you can do as a parent to develop your child’s language skills, it is simply TALKING TO YOUR KIDS!!! Be present with your children, spend time with them and talk to them. How else are they going to learn?
“Reading and talking to them helps their brains develop and builds language skills that form the foundation for learning the rest of their lives.”
Passive listening (watching videos, having the TV on in the background or anything related to screen time) does not show a positive association with language development but instead a negative correlation.
Be sure to take this extensive list with you as your child grows. Continue to adapt to your child’s needs and offer a variety of new, stimulating activities during play time and during day to day life with your child.
What’s your favorite developmental activity that you love to do with your child? Comment below because I would love to hear some new ideas!
And be sure to read “Why Are The First Five Years Of Life So Important” and learn the best parenting tip you have ever heard.
Dr. Jena Bradley, DPT
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
About Dr. Jena Bradley
Jena is a mom of 4 darling little girls, a physical therapist and founder of Live Core Strong, a blog focusing on motivating moms to live a life that incorporates fitness and fun throughout their motherhood journey. She aims to be the friend you always wanted to have who could guide you through the “fog” when faced with an “I don’t know what to do” mommy moment. At the most inconvenient time of her life, she embarked on a journey of sharing her story and expertise to inspire the next generation of healthy moms. You can learn more about Jena by visiting her ABOUT page.