Module 1: Promoting Mental Health in Infancy


A Window to Discovery

Babies learn about themselves, their family, and their “world” through play. They enjoy both quiet playtime activities such as reading and singing and more active play periods with age-appropriate toys and opportunities for safe exploration.

Questions to Ask

  • Tell me about your baby’s typical play.
  • How do you know when your baby is ready to play?
  • What are some of your baby’s favorite activities? Toys?
  • How do you choose toys that will be age-appropriate for your baby?
  • Do your other children play with your baby?

Provider Tips

  • Describe developmentally appropriate play and help parents identify activities and toys that would be suitable now and as the baby gets older.
  • Using the guidance below, explain how learning takes place through play. Encourage parents to connect with their baby by playing with him in a way that matches his needs and interests.

Guidance for Parents

  • Even a young baby can enjoy and learn from toys and other items that are suitable for his age. Offer your young baby toys to reach for, to kick, and to look at when he’s on his back and on his tummy. Use colorful blankets when you place him on his tummy to play and give him a toy mirror to look into.
  • Your baby loves spending time with you and will respond to enjoyable activities that are meaningful to him, such as being bounced on your knee while he giggles and shrieks for more, playing peek-a-boo, or enjoying a song or a toy with you.
  • The best time to play with your baby is when he is alert and looking around. If he is tired or fussy, he may not be interested in playing. Share both quiet and active playtime with your baby. Show him something that he might be interested in and let him lead the play.
  • Give your baby one toy at a time and make sure they are suitable for his age and abilities. Allow him to look at the toy and play with it in his own way. When he loses interest in a toy, give him another one to play with.
  • Your baby loves to “check out” the things around him. He will want to touch things, put them in his mouth, bang them, and drop them to see what happens. Give your baby toys and other safe objects to examine. This will help him learn that things are warm, cold, rough, smooth, soft, and hard. He will also learn what things can do—what can be rolled, chewed, knocked down, or shaken.
  • As your baby begins to crawl and “scoot” around, he will start to explore his “world.” Make sure he has a safe place to play and explore. Put colorful toys, sturdy books, and other objects within his reach. You might want to fill a box with things he can “investigate” – clean brushes, plastic containers, unbreakable cups and plates, pot lids, measuring cups, oatmeal boxes, and rinsed-out milk cartons.
Provider and Family Resources

For the Provider

Stimulating Play Information appears in a pop up window

Age Toy Game Song Goal
Newborn Mobile Kissing/blowing on fingers and toes when changing diaper Lullabies Focusing attention and facilitating self-regulation
4 Months Crib gym, board books Peek-a-boo (adult initiated) Songs that involve movement, such as "Clap, Clap, Clap Your Hands" Increasing awareness of actions of arms and legs
7 Months Dumping toys from a box, filling a box with toys, and stacking toys Peek-a-boo (reciprocal) and pat-a-cake Songs that involve interaction or hiding, such as "Where is Thumbkin?" Beginning understanding of object permanence
9 Months Balls and other rolling toys Rolling objects across the floor Songs that demonstrate causality, such as "Trot, Trot to Boston" Beginning understanding of cause and effect (causality)
12 Months Push/pull toys Playing chase while practicing emerging locomotion skills (e.g., "cruising, walking)

Songs that use repetitive language, such as "Wheels on the Bus"

Developing motor skills and receptive language

Source: Bright Futures in Practice: Mental Health—Volume I, pg. 41.

Copyright Georgetown University Georgtown University Infancy