How do you play with your kids when little? Anything I should be doing, or is interaction of any type sufficient?
Short answer: Any type of (positive) interaction is sufficient.
Longer answer: The books mostly say to do what I do naturally, probably because my mom was trained as a head start teacher before I came along. The following will speed things up in the areas you focus on, but so long as you’re not leaving the baby alone in a darkened room, they will pick things up just from experiencing the world and focusing in one area may slow down another. Basically they’re sponges so it’s all ok.
Talk to your baby even when ze can’t talk back. Pause for responses as if you’re having a conversation. Start with baby signs. Narrate what you’re doing. Make eye contact. Create rituals together: these are soothing to babies, kids, and grownups! Maybe there’s a certain game you play or a song you sing. But don’t get rigidly attached to the rituals. Say silly things, sing and dance.
You don’t have to treat your baby like a delicate flower– babies are surprisingly sturdy. If you want an earlier walker, carry your baby against you in a sling rather than in a cradle carry or a stroller. Avoid jumpies, walkers, bouncers, or anything that allows movement without a person actually walking. Spot your baby while ze practices standing or leaning on things, but don’t feel like you have to give 100% support. (If you don’t want an early walker, don’t worry about this stuff.) Carrying baby in a sling while you go through life will also help develop their vestibular system when you bend, twist, tilt, crouch, etc.
If you want great small motor skills, provide lots of things to practice small motor skills on.
If you want an early reader, read a LOT and trace your finger under the words you’re reading. Babies (and dolphins!) can also sight read from flash-cards, which is rather remarkable, but I’m not convinced that’s actually a useful skill.
If you want an early counter, include counting in your day-to-day activities. Count swing pushes. Count baby lifts. Count fingers and toes and cheerios.
If you want an early pottier, read The Diaper Free Baby and introduce the potty now. Whenever now is. Get in tune with your child’s peeing and pooing habits and get out of the diaper and over a potty during those times.
Maybe ask your kid to tell you a story about what their toys are doing. Say “wheeeeee” and “once upon a time” a lot. Show them how to make goggles with their fingers. Let them entertain themselves [with appropriate supervision]. Take ’em to the park and let ’em loose. Get a dog [Ed: ??? NO DO NOT!! This suggestion was quite obviously placed by the one of us without kids.] and let them tire each other out [ed: you can see that this suggestion is not unlike the “have another baby to tire the first one out” suggestion].
Grumpy Nation: How do you play with babies and toddlers and little kids?