Like Sesame Street and beloved stuffed animals, nursery games are a quintessential part of childhood. These simple activities aren't just cute songs and movements for your little one to master; they allow you the chance for some serious bonding time with your baby.
Aside from teaching your budding genius new party tricks, these games help with social and physical development, as well as promoting phonological awareness—the ability to recognize rhyme and rhythm and other sounds of spoken language. According to researchers from California State University Fullerton, phonological awareness is highly related to children's later success in reading and writing.
The more you play with your little one, the better prepared he'll be to learn new skills. Check out these nursery games to give your child a developmental head start, and have some fun to boot!
- Peek-a-Boo (0-12 months) This popular pick helps to teach your babe the concept of object permanence; the idea that something will continue to exist even if you don't see it. According to developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, most infants understand object permanence around eight or nine months, but games of peek-a-boo played from early infancy on can help to speed up the process. The game couldn't be easier—simply hide behind your hands (or another object) and then pop out and say, "Peek-a-boo! I see you!" Helping your kid understand this concept can mean the difference between a happy bye-bye and a tearful meltdown.
- Singing games (0-12 months) Singing songs to your sweetie helps to teach the sounds of words, as well as rhythm and music. Classic nursery songs like "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush" and "Old Macdonald Had a Farm" may also help your baby identify everyday tasks and learn farm animal names and their sounds.
- Hide and Seek (3-6 months) This game offers up more object permanence practice. Take a toy, hide it under a blanket, then ask, "Where's the rattle?" Pull the blanket aside and announce "Here it is!" Name the objects as you go; this helps your baby associate words with objects.
- This Little Piggy (3-6 months) Body awareness is the name of this game, as little ones feel each individual toe being manipulated. Taking hold of each little "piggy" in turn, chant this rhyme: "This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home, this little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home!"
- Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (3-6 months) This nursery game promotes body awareness, helps develop body part vocabulary and gives your little learner practice with phonological awareness through singing. Sing the following song: "Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes, head, shoulders knees and toes, knees and toes, eyes and ears and mouth and nose, head, shoulders, knees and toes," touching each little part as you name it.
- Ride a Cock-Horse (3-6 months) Bouncing games such as this one help your kid develop social relationships, muscle coordination and balance. To play, cross one knee over the other and place your wee one on your top foot. Hold his little hands as you swing your foot up and down, gently bouncing him as you sing: "Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross, To see a fine lady upon her white horse. With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes. She shall hear music wherever she goes."
- Open Them, Shut Them (6-9 months) Introduce your tiny tot to the concept of opposites as you demonstrate both open and shut. Sit your baby up facing you and chant the words: "Open them, shut them; open them, shut them. Give a little clap. Open them, shut them; open them, shut them. Put them in your lap," as you guide your baby's hands to mimic the actions as you go along.
- Flying game (7-9 months) Promote trust, strengthen your kid's developing muscles and get more opposite practice with this Superman-inspired game. The directions are simple: swoop your baby up into the air, chanting "Up, up, up," then gently swing him down again, chanting "Down, down, down!"
- Pat-a-Cake (7-9 months) Clapping games help to develop basic listening skills, as well as manual dexterity. Sit your child up so he's facing you, and clap his hands together while you sing, "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man, Bake me a cake as fast as you can!" Roll his hands in circles while you say "Roll it," then pat his palms on his lap as you say "Pat it," and move them to make the shape of a "B" in the air when you get to "Mark it with a "B". Finish up with, "Put it in the oven for baby and me!"
- Itsy-Bitsy Spider (9-12 months) Who doesn't love this childhood classic? Sing this simple song to your baby when he's new, but wait until he's developed some coordination before throwing in the finger movements. Sing, "Itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the water-spout," as you use his thumbs and pointer fingers to "walk" on his tummy. When you reach, "Down came the rain and washed the spider out," wiggle his fingers to mimic rain. During, "Out came the sun and dried up all the rain," raise his arms up above his head. Finally, repeat the first "walk" motion as you sing, "And the itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the spout again."
These nursery games inspire strong bonds, developmental skills and most importantly, give you two the chance to have a little fun. Your little one's giggle always makes everything worth it!