My baby can't leave the house and I'm going nuts: what low-key games do you play with your infant?

July 19 | Guest post by GoldfishFox
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
Photo by mhofstrand, used under Creative Commons license.
My son spent most of his first four months of life in a hospital. Suffice to say, we haven't had much in the way of normal family time, but he has fared far better — medically, socially, and emotionally — than we ever could have dreamed.

The problem? Because he is so recently post-transplant, he can't be in most public spaces without either a wee baby-sized face mask or without being in his stroller under a rain cover to block out airborne germs. Even with precautions in place, he can't be around other children, pets, or large crowds. This is parenting in a vacuum, however wonderful it may be.

Sometime last week, I realized that I was playing the exact same five games with him — on repeat — all day. We have walked around the block until we were both dizzy, and we had read every single book more times than either of our interests could handle. I've basically run out of things to do with him that are safe, doctor-approved, and still developmentally stimulating. Heck, I've even abandoned my "no screen time!" policy and resorted to cartoons and watching YouTube videos with him sometimes.

I'd love to hear about playtime activities, toys, potential field trip destinations, or any other ideas that have worked out there in Offbeat Mama land. What games, activities, and other fun stuff do you do with your really little guy or gal indoors or in a low-key setting?Goldfish Fox

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  1. Hey Mama, I feel your pain. My son was a preemie and spent the first 3 months of his lifer inthe NICU and then we can home during RSV season. It was hard. I don't know how old your baby is now but one thing I've found is a book called "your child at play: birth to one year. By Marilyn Segal. It is a great book with ideas of games you can play to further their development. There are also other editions for older kids. Look it up on amazon.

    1 agrees
  2. There is a book of baby games from the 80's. I cant remember the title but its something like Activities and games for baby's first year. Ive used it for day care and for babysitting. It has lots of nursery ryhmes finger games, and learning activities that you can do at home. Check out pintrest for sensory activities. could you ask a local museum if you could come by early in the morning or late at night? If there is going to be someone there anyway they may let you enjoy some time there without the crowds. Think of things you would like to do and just call and explain your situation. The worst they can say is no.

    1 agrees
  3. Sing! Sing kids songs and songs you like. Download new songs and listen with your baby and sign along. For kids songs, do the hand motions (ie itsy bitsy spider).
    And don't fret too much about some screen time, as long as you talk to him while watching it ("Look at that silly kitty. What did he do? Did he fall down?")

    7 agree
  4. I just let my son lay on the floor for a bit and look around, just kinda letting him take it all in. It's a short activity since he doesn't want to be by himself for long, but good for him to just visually explore his world.

    3 agree
  5. If you dig through the fabric remnants at a craft store (or ask your sewing friends), you can find a lot of pieces of fabric in a lot of different textures, weights, colors, etc. Babies are very, very interested in them. I cut them in about 8×8" squares and let him play with them and he loved practicing grabbing with all the different colors and textures. We could also play peek-a-boo with them, rub them on his arms or cheeks to help him feel the texture, drop them on his head, throw them around, etc.

    The most popular fabrics were actually a coarse burlap — he was fascinated by the scratchy texture — and a luridly pink faux-fur.

    8 agree
  6. How old is the child that we are wanting to entertain.
    Here are some of my go-to rainy day activities for the 2 and 3 yr old I nanny for (and I think most of them could be adapted to entertain a younger or older child too)

    – forts (we make them from boxes or blankets, use flashlights, even sneak the ipad in to watch a cartoon inside)
    – cooking (this can vary from them helping to put together lunch, to us making cakes and cookies together, and its definitely the process, not the product thats important)
    – sensory box (i have a large under bed storage box and we put all sorts of fun things inside it to play with, favourites have been easter grass and eggs with treats inside, snow, ice cubes, rice, gloop)
    – fun baths (so long as all surgery cuts have healed) doesn't just have to be for water and bubbles, you can paint or do any messy activity in it for real easy clean up. or hide fun things in the water to fish for (including glow sticks)
    – balloons (we play with balloons a lot and practise catching and throwing, hitting with a paper plate etc.
    – music channel on tv (we dance, we sing, we play along with our guitars)

    I hope you find somethings to entertain the little one AND keep yourself sane

    5 agree
    • extra-agree with the fun baths idea! if your kid can sit fairly steadily on his own, ANY messy activity is made easy by doing it in the bathtub (as long as it's something that can go down the drain). water soluble finger paints/bath paints can keep toddlers busy in the tub for hours (without water… yet) follow with a bath to clean the "art" and the kiddo.

  7. Wow! A lot of love here for you on OM!

    If you get a chance, check out the blog Play at Home Mom. They have tons of activities geared toward the toddler set, but I always appreciated that they had activities that the little bitty guys could get in on, too. Almost all of the ideas are DIY and pretty easy. I found PAHM via Pinterest and the Facebook community is good as well.

    Don't forget to take care of yourself too, obviously!

    http://playathomemom3.blogspot.com/

    2 agree
    • As an auntie and a caregiver to children ages five to twelve, I LOVE Play at Home Mom.

  8. Babies truly don't need one on one attention as much as you'd think. Both of my children enjoyed being carried around in a wrap or pack of some sort watching my every day chores and activities. They really can learn a lot just watching what mommy does day-to-day. . .

    9 agree
    • I also agree here. Even if you're just spending time on the computer & checking emails — read everything aloud. If you're just doing chores, talk about what you're doing. That alone is enough stimulus for infants/babies, and it helps develop language skills. of course, quiet time is just as nice. πŸ™‚ I tend to talk to myself anyway, so the talking aloud about what I'm doing comes naturally, but this isn't the case for everyone.

      4 agree
      • I read a couple chapters of The Hunger Games aloud to my infant, because I didn't want to stop reading to entertain her… πŸ˜‰

        3 agree
        • I did this with my son. He would play in his room and I would sit in the rocking chair in his room and read aloud. He liked it because he though I was talking to him.

  9. What about getting on Skype or similar video chat? You could have regular "visits" from friends and family. Maybe help keep you both a little more connected to life outside the bubble.
    Or ask your loved ones to send videos of themselves reading books. That way, if the kiddo wants to hear those favorite stories over and over, you could take a little break.

    1 agrees
  10. We were in a very similar situation as you last summer – my twins were in the hospital for 3 months and when we came home we couldn't be around other kids or germs due to my daughter recovering from heart surgery and my son's lung issues. We spent that first summer (they were 3-6 months old at the time)hanging at a local park. It didn't have a playground or any picnic tables so we were always the only ones there. We'd stop at the local coffee shop so I could get a cup of coffee (they were covered in our Moby Wrap)and then we'd head to the park. We didn't do much – read books, play, sing, giggle – but it kept me sane.

    1 agrees
    • Oh I forgot to mention this. If you are on Pinterest I found that Hand to Hold (http://pinterest.com/handtohold/) has some really great boards dedicated to infant development, self care and special needs. We got a lot of great ideas from their pins – sensory boxs, dev. play, etc.

  11. What about you? you are thinking about stimulating the baby with games and stuff but you might need stuff yourself. I think that getting a season of the wire or battlestar gallactica or game of thrones or whatever floats your boat is usually good for when you can't leave the house for whatever reason- i think the no screen time thing is mainly for when kids are older, you need stimulation with adult age material of some kind.

    4 agree
    • edit- if you don't like tv at all thats cool, but I think you should think of things that will entertain you, like making stuff or cooking or whatnot as well as things that will entertain the baby. also, books on tape maybe?

      3 agree
      • I agree! Entertain YOURSELF, including your baby as much as possible. I don't really think babies benefit from constant baby-directed attention, anyway… I think it's good to have them observe you doing stuff and spend time doing their own stuff (looking around, shaking things, tasting things) as well.

        1 agrees
  12. Cruise Pinterest for sensory activities for infants. A great website is Play at Home Mom – http://playathomemom.blogspot.com/
    They have activities for young babies from birth. Different, stimulating and fun for both mama and baby. Also, infants don't need entertained every waking minute. Feel free to let him hang in a wrap/bouncy seat/swing/etc while you do your thing – read, garden, clean, talk to friends on the phone (seriously, a real phone call can do wonders) craft, whatever. You need stimulation for yourself as well. You are doing a great job, mama

    3 agree
  13. Hi there!
    My daughter is 20 months old and 1 1/2 years out from her heart transplant. I want to encourage you because it will get easier as time goes on and he gets further out from transplant. The first year and the first winter are rough and I was scared shitless of the Flu, RSV, and everything else. We are comfortable enough to take our daughter to family members houses now, but I can totally relate to the cabin fever. We watched a lot of sesame street and read lots of books! Our daughter has a twin, so I think it really helped to have a playmate and a second baby to look after. Best of luck and big hugs!
    Jessica πŸ™‚

    1 agrees
  14. Hi there!
    My daughter is 20 months old and 1 1/2 years out from her heart transplant. I want to encourage you because it will get easier as time goes on and he gets further out from transplant. The first year and the first winter are rough and I was scared of the Flu, RSV, and everything else. We are comfortable enough to take our daughter to family members houses now, but I can totally relate to the cabin fever. We watched a lot of sesame street and read lots of books! Our daughter has a twin, so I think it really helped to have a playmate and a second baby to look after. Best of luck and big hugs!
    Jessica πŸ™‚

  15. My little one never had any special issues with being around others, but in my circle I am the first to be a mommy. Most people we know work. We try to plan to go out during the library days or music in the park but they always schedule it when she sleeps. So making do with inside activities is key for us. Reading, Doing exercise/yoga (baby imitates and it's cute and good for you), music with kitchen bowls and spoons, tossing the ball around (I didn't think 11 month olds could but you learn something everyday), singing, dancing, dump all the toys out and put them away as fast as you can (a new favorite and a great learning tool), hig chair games (playing with food, painting with yogurt, or try goving them soup… My baby loves homemade chicken noodle) and of course a bath with toys other than what is normally there. There is a recipe online for edible fingerprints so if they accidentally ingest they are ok (specially for ones like mine). And of course coloring in coloring books.

    Also get on Pinterest and start a board or follow someone who posts play ideas and games for wee ones. A friend of mine got me hooked and I've been collecting ideas on there for a few months so I have some tricks up my sleeve.

    Best of luck and prayers to you and all of us sleep deprived out there.

  16. Bubbles. Fun to watch for tiny ones and fun to chase for mobile ones.

    Also, how about hiring someone/bribing grandma to watch him a couple of hours a week so you can get out and socialize? It'll be easier to spend all your time with him if you get out away from him from time to time.

    2 agree
    • Yes, bubbles! I helped out in the crawling / barely-walking room at Sunday school and they had a cheap bubble machine. Turned it on for five minutes and the kids were thrilled! Twenty minutes later, turned it on again, and more excitement. And a third time. Amazing how much the kiddos loved those bubbles. πŸ™‚

  17. They run classes in my city for moms and babies where the babies are in carriers and the moms do some salsa dancing. I can't afford the expensive baby dancing classes so I looked up some "how-to" salsa videos on youtube and danced with my baby. It may only have been 10 minutes but really helped my mood on a bad weather day when we were stuck in the house.

    1 agrees
  18. When I was little, my mom made me an indoor "sandbox" by filling a dishtub with a few inches of cornmeal and handing me some plastic measuring cups. It was nontoxic and easy to clean up when some spilled out. Maybe that'd be something different.

    1 agrees
  19. Talk to him! Just have a full on conversation. They don't know what you're talking about, but just the attention of conversing with you is stimulating.

    1 agrees
  20. Take a "glow in the dark" bath. Get some glow sticks from Party City, through them in the tub and turn off the lights.

  21. Infant massage is wonderful! A great bonding experience and promotes development and health benefits. There may be classes in your area, but also plenty of info on the web and YouTube videos on the different strokes. There are also movement games to play/encourage development. To get you started: http://www.infantmassageusa.org/

  22. When my daughter was really little and it was too cold to go outside I would put on some free yoga podcasts and do them with her. Sometimes you can incorporate the baby by picking them up and holding them during certain poses. Othertimes she just got a kick out of crawling around me while I was on the floor with her.
    It helped pass the time, entertained my baby and gave me some good stretching and exercise.

    1 agrees

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