Floor Play for Babies

Baby floor play is one of those essential play activities that maybe kids are missing out on more than ever. Here we are talking about why babies need to get down on the floor to baby play, and how to set up floor play activities for babies and toddlers. Baby development depends on movement and play. These ideas will guide you in creating play activities that maximize child development through those early years.

Another great resource to check out is a new blog post on DIR Floortime.

What is Floor Play

Floor play and movement play is one of those things that not only help babies develop essential skills, it is a powerful way to help them excel with higher level tasks. There is so much more than just placing a baby down on the floor to play. Let me explain…

When little ones are on the floor in tummy time or in play activities, they are developing essential core strength and visual perceptual skills that will help them down the road in areas like reading, endurance in play, and even handwriting. Here is more information on how floor play and tummy time helps with the development of spatial awareness and other visual perception skills.

Time spent on the floor helps with kinesthetic intelligence as well. With tummy time play comes skills like body awareness and reasoning, eye-hand coordination, motor skills, and spatial ability for function.

Play For Babies

Baby floor play is such a powerful way to help with child development! Use these floor play activities for babies to support skills like crawling.

For babies, tummy time helps to build strength in the core, arms, neck, and shoulder girdle needed for sitting up, changing of positions, and coordination. Here are baby play ideas that can be incorporated into floor time activities. Movement like participating in play, changing positions, reaching, crawling, moving objects, and functional tasks require endurance and stability. Tummy time is an important task for infant babies as well as older babies for different reasons. In each stage, floor play encourages use of the body and eyes in coordinated motor plans.

More Floor Activities for Babies and toddlers

Floor play for babies can look like toys placed in front of the infant. Using noise toys, rattles, and eye-catching toys encourages reach, visual tracking, neck and head movement, and development of visual processing and auditory processing.

Floor play for infants can look like a scattering of toys placed in a circle around the child. This positioning encourages turning, rolling, and creeping or crawling, especially when the little one is pushing up onf their elbows and hands.

For very small babies, floor play can look like getting very close to the child to encourage them to pick up their head and make eye contact.

Baby play ideas can be easy but pack a powerful punch when it comes to child development and helping with skills like crawling and learning.

Older babies that are sitting up can benefit from a scattering of toys placed around them on the floor. Place pillows behind and around the baby and encourage them to pick up toys like large blocks as they bring the toy to their mouth to explore. Picking up and bringing items to the midline promotes endurance of core strength, stability in the core, and coordination as they reach and turn.

Playing on the floor can include baby mats or baby-safe mirrors. Check out this baby sensory play idea using mirrors for an easy way to encourage movement and endurance in floor play using everyday items such as cups, balls, and baby toys.

Babies that are beginning to crawl love play tunnels…and for good reason. Baby play tunnels are exciting and fun! But not only that, they develop skills like visual motor skills, cause and effect, visual scanning, visual convergence, and so much more. Here are more play tunnel activities for babies.

Try this indoor play idea that boosts development of skills such as fine motor skills, visual motor skills, and visual perceptual skills using toddler-friendly blocks!

Floor play for babies builds skills and helps them develop and learn to crawl while building endurance and strength for motor movement tasks.
Use large blocks or other baby toys in floor play for babies. Super easy!

Occupational therapists know the value of movement and playing on the floor has on babies. We know that babies need tummy time and a chance to move on the floor without use of the Bumbo seat, swing, and other baby positioners. We KNOW that play is the child’s primary occupation and that through play, they develop motor skills, cognition, language, and so much more.

That’s why I’m SO excited to share a valuable new resource for new and expecting moms.

Remarkable Infants is a HUGE resource for new parents. This online course, taught by 5 child development experts, is a 5 hour crash course on development of the whole child from birth through 12 months of age. It is literally everything that we WISH new parents knew about tummy time, positioners, developmental milestones, baby play, communication, sleep, and nutrition.

Tummy Time Myths

Tummy Time Advice…There are certain tummy time myths that are part of that advice. You’ve heard about it at each baby well visit and read it in all the baby advice books. All of that tummy time advice is so important. But what happens when that sweet little baby wails as soon as they are down on the floor? Those little screams can break a mama’s heart! It can be stressful for mom and dad when tummy time results in a red-faced, screaming baby. Here’s the thing though. Tummy time doesn’t need to be stressful. But how do you break through those screams of discomfort? It’s actually part of the tummy time myths we’re debunking here. Read more for tummy time myths and what’s really happening:

When to start tummy time and other tummy time myths that parents have.

Your Biggest Tummy Time Myths Busted

What is the biggest myth or misconception surrounding tummy time ? What is one thing that many parents believe…but it just isn’t true?

Here’s the thing: Babies don’t actually hate tummy time.

Back to Sleep has our babies sleeping on their backs, and that’s a good thing. But babies are also spending a lot more time on their backs that is necessary it’s having an impact on development, and issues like Flat Head Syndrome ( or Positional Plagiocephaly), or torticollis (or stiff neck in babies). There are other issues that can come up as a result of lack of tummy time. There is a reason why doctors and therapists agree that babies need that time every single day. Tummy time is so important for neck and core strength, digestion, spatial awareness, eye-hand coordination, visual processing, preventing flat spots on the head, and strength and stability of the trunk, neck, and arms.

Tummy Time Myth #1 My baby hates tummy time.

Baby needs tummy time. Baby is placed on their belly…and they scream. Mom or dad swoops in and picks up baby. They MUST be in pain, right? Crying = something is wrong, right? Wrong! Your baby actually doesn’t hate tummy time!

So often, parents of a young baby are told to place their infant into tummy time for proper development, strengthening. The pediatrician has mentioned it at each doctor’s visit. But each time you dread it. It hurts your heart to hear that sweet little thing wail or downright scream each time he or she is placed on her belly!

Baby actually just needs a little help learning to get comfortable, adjust to new positioning, staying calm, connecting with a loved one, and engaging in this strange, new view of the world. Think about it this way: your child just spent a long nine months (or more/less) curled up in a cozy fetal position in the womb. That’s a lot of time to get comfortable in a curved and flexed position. Then, that newborn sweetie is swaddled, held, placed on their back to sleep, or snuggled in a car seat or baby swing most of the day and night.

Positioning baby on their stomach actually stretches and lengthens those muscles that have for so long been curved up in a snuggly curved forward position. Laying a baby on their belly stretches and develops the muscles that will later support the child in sitting and playing in the coming months. Tummy time is also essential for neck and core strength, visual processing, and eye-hand coordination. It prevents flat spots on the head and allows for flexibility of the neck and hips. The problem is that all of this work is hard for baby!

So, a crying baby in tummy time is definitely communicating their dislike of this new and hard task of stretching out those muscles and joints. They are telling you that the hard sensation of the floor on their tummy is different. They are expressing uneasiness in the way they can.

Tummy Time Myth #2: Tummy Time starts at 2 months

Nope! Tummy time actually starts before that three month time, or even one month. In fact, tummy time starts much, much earlier! Knowing when to start tummy time is actually one of the most common questions new parents have about their baby.

When to start tummy time?

Tummy time starts day one! That’s the thing: tummy time can start on the day (or night) that your little one is born and it can be easy to do. As soon as baby is fed, rest that sweet little one on your chest and you’ve got a baby in its first session of tummy time. Using chest positioning several times a day is an easy way to transition to floor tummy time where the little babe can build the strength they need.

Tummy Time Myth #3: Tummy Time is Hard!

When little baby cries because they are used to going “Back to Sleep”, spending time in their car seat, baby swing, bouncer, Bumbo pillow, or curled up to eat, they can have some trouble in tummy time. Think about it: when your little one has spent so much time curled up in a comfortable bent forward (flexed) position, laying on the floor in tummy time can put a stretch on those muscles. But tummy time doesn’t need to be hard…

In fact, there are some simple ways to make tummy time easier for baby so that the important strengthening, stretching, and development can happen:

  • Use short 3-4-minute periods of tummy time several times throughout the day instead of longer spurts. Make it part of the routine of the day.
  • Try positioning baby in tummy time in position where they feel more connected to mom or dad: on a parent’s chest, laying across the knees with support, in the arms in a football hold, with a nursing pillow, etc. Here are more tummy time activities in various positioning.
  • Get down on the floor and make eye contact with a soothing voice. Baby needs to feel connection so he/she can learn to stay calm in tummy time. A tummy time mat can make the floor feel softer and provide an engaging surface. Some of the best tummy time mats have bold patterns with black and white or black/white/red patterns.
  • Engage with baby in play while in tummy time. Invite siblings to play with baby. Talk to baby. Use tummy time toys to engage baby. The options are limitless. Try this tummy time play idea with baby-safe mirrors.
  • Encourage reaching for toys and development of eye-hand coordination skills that will drive crawling, play, and eventually reading and writing. Here are some baby play ideas for older babies, but some to give an idea of tummy time play.

A final Note on Tummy TIme Myths

Did any of these tummy time myths resonate with you? Have you run across questions about tummy time or wonder when to start tummy time? Let me know in the comments below. Add your tummy time tips too. You never know if they may help another new parent!

Play Tunnel Activities

Play tunnels are one of the best tools for therapy as you can work on so many skills if you just put a little creativity into it. Tunnel activities simply invite kiddo fun and engagement while working on very important skill development across a spectrum of areas. You can use fabric tunnels or nylon, pop-up tunnels depending on the skills you want to address with tunnel play. With a little imagination you can build your own DIY tunnels too! Keep reading to get some play tunnel ideas using different materials. For home-based therapists, DIY tunnels are a great tool for families to use in the home environment providing an opportunity for a fun and easy to implement home-based program. Some of these tunnel activities for babies and tunnel activities for toddlers can be used to address specific needs through play.

Play tunnel activities using a sensory tunnel
Tunnel activity for sensory input

Play Tunnels and Sensory

During tunnel play, not only do therapists want to work on the obvious gross motor skills such as crawling, bilateral coordination, motor planning, core/neck/upper extremity strength, and body awareness. They also like to use tunnels for sensory needs such as vestibular and proprioceptive input. In the simplest of terms, the vestibular sense is known as the movement sense telling us where our body is in space, while the proprioceptive sense is known as the deep pressure sense telling us the direction, speed, and extent of our body movement in space. These senses are important to help a child develop balance, body awareness, understand the position of their body in space as well as knowing how much speed and pressure their bodies are exerting when completing an activity or moving within their environment.

Adding a play tunnel into sensory diet activities to meet a variety of needs. It’s an easy way to encourage sensory input in the school environment, home, or clinic.

Tunnel activities using pool noodles

So, you may be asking, how can children gather vestibular input from tunnel time activities? You can have children roll within the tunnel, perform various body movements such as forward and backward crawling, balancing on all fours while simply crawling through the tunnel, slither on their backs, or have them crawl in the tunnel placed on top of cushions and pillows.

Fabric tunnel for proprioceptive input.

Proprioceptive input can be obtained while the child is bearing weight on the upper and lower extremities during crawling providing input to the joints and muscles. They can push objects through the tunnel such as large therapy balls or large pillows, army crawl through the tunnel, and shaking the tunnel while child is inside can provide valuable proprioceptive input.

By using a play tunnel to address proprioception to improve body awareness, the proprioceptive sense allows us to position our bodies just so in order to enable our hands, eyes, ears, and other parts to perform actions or jobs at any given moment. Proprioception activities help with body awareness. Using a fabric tunnel that is snug against the body can provide good input which can also have a calming effect for some children.

DIY tunnel activity using cardboard boxes
Use these play tunnel activities to improve motor skills and sensory activities.

Play tunnel activities

When using a tunnel, you can work on other skills that address multiple areas for children. Try some of these fun tunnel time activities:

  1. Play Connect Four with pieces on one end and the game played on the other end.
  2. Assemble puzzles with pieces on one end and then transported through the tunnel to the other end.
  3. Clothespins attached on end to transport and place on the other end. You can use clothespins with letters to spell words.
  4. Push a large ball or pillow through the tunnel.
  5. Crawl backwards from one end to the other.
  6. Slither through the tunnel (rocking body left and right) to get from one end to the other.
  7. Scoot through the tunnel using hands and feet or even crab walk through the tunnel.
  8. Recall letters, shapes, or words from one end and highlight on paper at the other end.
  9. Recall a series of steps to complete a task at the other end.
  10. Blow a cotton ball or pom-pom ball through the tunnel. Kids love this to see how many they can blow in a timed fashion.
  11. With pennies on one end, have child transport them to the other end to insert into a bank. You can even give them the pennies at end of the session if you want.
  12. Push a car through the tunnel to drive it and park it at the other end.
  13. Build a Lego structure by obtaining blocks at one end of the tunnel and transporting to the other end to build.
  14. Intermittently crawl through the tunnel and lie within one end to work on a drawing or handwriting activity. This is just a different and motivating way to encourage handwriting practice.
  15. Crawl over pillows or cushions placed inside or outside of the tunnel.
  16. Use a flashlight and crawl through the tunnel gathering specific beads that have been placed inside to string at the other end of the tunnel. You could work on spelling words with letter beads or simply just string regular beads.
  17. Place Mat Man body pieces at one end and have child obtain pieces per verbal directive and then crawl through the tunnel to build at the other end.
DIY tunnel activity

DIY Play TUnnel Ideas

So, as mentioned previously, what if you don’t have a tunnel or you want to create one within a home for developing a home-based program? Well, make one! How can you do this? Read on for a few fun ideas.

  1. Create a tunnel by crawling under tables or chairs.
  2. Create a tunnel in the hallway with use of pool noodles. Bend them over in an arch to fit or simply cut them down to size to slide directly between the walls.
  3. Use large foam connecting mats and assemble a tunnel.
  4. Use tape or yarn and string to alternating walls down a hallway to crawl under.
  5. Use sturdy pieces of foam board positioned or connected together to make a tunnel.
  6. Use an elongated cardboard box. Sometimes you can get large boxes at an appliance, hardware, or retail store.
  7. Stretch a sheet or blanket over furniture and crawl.
  8. Simply place a sheet or blanket on the floor and have child crawl under it (a heavier blanket works well).
  9. Place a therapy mat inside a series of hula hoops.
  10. Use PVC pipe to build a tunnel. Add sensory items to the PVC frame to create a fun sensory element to the crawling experience. One such tunnel was built by my wonderful fieldwork student, Huldah Queen, COTA/L in 2016.  See the picture below.
  11. Sew a fabric tunnel (if you have that skill).
  12. Use pop up clothes hampers connected together after cutting out the bottoms.
  13. Simulate tunnel crawling with simple animal walks or moves.

Tunnel activities can facilitate child engagement while providing an optimal skill development setting.  Tunnel time can address gross motor and sensory needs while also incorporating other activities making tunnel time a skill building powerhouse tool. Incorporate fun fine motor and visual motor activities to make tunnel time a “want to do” activity every time!

Regina Allen

Regina Parsons-Allen is a school-based certified occupational therapy assistant. She has a pediatrics practice area of emphasis from the NBCOT. She graduated from the OTA program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute in Hudson, North Carolina with an A.A.S degree in occupational therapy assistant. She has been practicing occupational therapy in the same school district for 20 years. She loves her children, husband, OT, working with children and teaching Sunday school. She is passionate about engaging, empowering, and enabling children to reach their maximum potential in ALL of their occupations as well assuring them that God loves them!

Development of Eye-Hand Coordination

Development of eye hand coordination

Eye-hand coordination development typically occurs through movement, beginning at a very young age. The visual components of oculomotor skills (how the eyes move) include visual fixation, visual tracking (or smooth pursuits), and visual scanning. These beginning stages of child development play a big part down the road in taking in visual information and using it to perform motor tasks. 

Eye hand coordination develops from a very young age! Here is information about the development of visual motor skills, specifically eye hand coordination in babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.

Eye Hand Coordination Development

{These are general guidelines of development based on approximate development of the visual motor skills needed for play, motor skills, and visual motor development.}
Holding and talking to baby in the very young ages plays such an important part in the puzzle of visual motor skills. 

Additionally, tummy time and as the baby gains head strength and control, they eyes become stronger in their ability to fixate, track, and scan from the prone position. This is why we place toys around a baby on a baby blanket and encourage reach. That pivotal stage when baby begins to roll is a social media-worthy time in the parent’s life. But there is more to celebrate than baby’s new rolling skills. Control of the eyes with movement is a big accomplishment and something that baby strengthens with movement. 

Hand and Eye Coordination

These skill areas are broken down by months, all the way up through the preschool years. 

Disclaimer: Amazon affiliate links are included in this post.

     Tracking a rattle while lying on back                                    
     Tracking a rattle to the side                
     Infant regards their own hands
     Tracks a ball side to side as it rolls across a table left to right and right to left.
     Tracks a rattle while lying on back side to side
     Extends hands to reach for a rattle/toy while lying on back
     Reaches to midline for a rattle/toy while lying on back
     While lying on back, the infant touches both hands together.

Crawling on the hands and knees plays a vital role in eye hand coordination, too. When baby positions themselves up on all fours, they are gaining awesome proprioceptive input, strength in the shoulder girdle, core, and neck. When crawling, baby is gaining mobility, but also using targeted movement toward a goal they visually process. Research shows that hands-and-knees and walker-assisted locomotor experience facilitate spatial search performance. Spatial awareness and visual skill development is needed for coordinated use of the hands in motor tasks.

In fact, crawling improves so many areas needed for refined eye-hand coordination, including the fine motor skills, gross motor skills, balance, and strength needed for tasks like precision of in-hand manipulation, positioning in activities, and sustained endurance.

Eye hand coordination develops from infancy! Playing with baby in tummy time is a crucial element to eye hand coordination development.

     Brings hands together to grasp a block/toy while sitting supported on an adult’s lap
     Extends arm to reach up for a toy while laying on back
     Transfers a block/toy from one hand to the other while sitting supported on an adult’s lap.
     Touches a cereal piece with index finger
     Bangs a toy on a table surface while sitting supported on an adult’s lap

     Claps hands together

     Removes loose pegs from a Peg Board

     Removes socks
     Releases a cereal bit onto table surface
     Places blocks into a cup

A lot of eye hand coordination development occurs in the toddler years. Here are developmental milestones for eye hand coordination from 1-3 years.

Development of Eye Hand Coordination for Toddlers

     Turns pages in a board book
     Imitates stirring a spoon in a cup

     Imitates tapping a spoon on a cup
     Begins to places large puzzle pieces in a beginner puzzle

     Scribbles on paper

     Imitates building a tower of 2-3 blocks

     Builds a block tower, stacking 4-5 blocks

     Imitates copying vertical lines

     Removes a screw top lid on a bottle
     Stacks 8 blocks
     Begins to snip with scissors

     Imitates horizontal strokes with a marker
     Strings 2 Beads
     Imitates folding a piece of paper (bending the paper and making a crease, not aligning the edges)

     Imitates building a train with blocks
     Strings 3-4 Beads
     Stacks 10 blocks

     Builds a “bridge” with three blocks

     Copies a circle

     Builds a “wall” with four blocks

Eye hand development continues in the preschool years. Here are ways that eye hand coordination develops in preschool and how to improve these visual motor skills.

Eye hand Coordination in Preschoolers

     Cuts a paper in half with scissors

     Lace 2-3 holes with string on Lacing Shapes
     Copies a cross

     Cuts within 1/2 inch of a strait line.
     Traces a horizontal line

     Copies a square
     Cuts a circle within 1/2 inch of the line
     Build “steps” with blocks

     Connects two dots to make a horizontal line.
     Cuts a square within 1/2 inch of the line
     Builds a “pyramid” with blocks

     Folds a piece of paper in half with the edges parallel
     Colors within lines

There is so much happening through regular play, interaction with babies and toddlers at each stage. What’s important to know is that the development doesn’t stop there! 

Studies have shown that eye-hand coordination impacts learning, communication, social-emotional skills, attention, and focus. Wow! 

Coordination Skills

Here are some ideas to work on eye-hand coordination for preschooler kids and older: 
This Letter Eye Hand Coordination Activity helps with bilateral coordination and the visual processing skills needed for reading and so many other skills. 

Try this scooping and pouring eye-hand coordination activity that can be adjusted to meet the needs of many ages and abilities.

More visual processing activities

For even MORE information on eye-hand coordination and activities to use in your occupational therapy practice, you will want to join our free visual processing lab email series. It’s a 3-day series of emails that covers EVERYthing about visual processing. We take a closer look at visual skills and break things down, as well as covering the big picture of visual needs.

In the visual processing lab, you will discover how oculomotor skills like smooth pursuits make a big difference in higher level skills like learning and executive function. The best thing about this lab (besides all of the awesome info) is that it has a fun “lab” theme. I might have had too much fun with this one 🙂

Join us in visual processing Lab! Where you won’t need Bunsen burners or safety goggles!

Click here to learn more about Visual Processing Lab and to sign up.

Free visual processing email lab to learn about visual skills needed in learning and reading.
Work on eye-hand coordination with preschoolers by building with blocks!
Try activities like geoboards, pegboards, and lacing beads to improve eye hand coordination development in kids.

Kermoian, Rosanne & Campos, Joseph. (1988). Locomotor Experience: A Facilitator of Spatial Cognitive Development. Child development. 59. 908-17. 10.2307/1130258.