The year before your baby turns one goes by in a flash. To quote ’80s movie hero Ferris Bueller, “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” If I had a dollar for every time other parents said that to me during my son’s first trip around the sun, I’d have his college fund established. But as cliché as it sounds, it is true. While the days are long, the years are short. And the first year feels particularly short as you navigate the fog of postpartum and life with your new little one.
As a parent, wanting to keep your baby happy and entertained is natural. Planning activities to help them explore the world and celebrate milestones can be fun. Because you are likely running on four hours of broken sleep, we’ve compiled a list of 20 memorable things you can plan to do with your baby before they turn one. So, charge up that smartphone because we sense a photo-op or two in your future.
1. Soak Up the Snuggles
I know this one may seem obvious, but so much emphasis is placed on establishing a routine and developing sleep/wake windows for babies before they turn one. It’s important to soak in all the delicious snuggle time you can before your baby graduates to walking and running out of reach. Sometimes my son falls asleep on me while I’m rocking him, and my initial reaction is to transition him into his crib to maximize my productivity. Instead, I’ll sometimes indulge in a contact nap. I enjoy feeling his little chest rise and fall in sync with mine. It melts the stress away, if only for a few minutes.
2. Celebrate Milestones with Snapshots
New moms know there’s no such thing as too many pictures of your little one. While you may have already had to upgrade your phone storage to accommodate the absurd number of photos you snap weekly (or daily), try to remember to snap pictures of milestones. It sounds simple, but you’ll be amazed by how each “month” marker passes you by before your baby turns one. Sometimes, weeks would lapse before I’d remember to grab a photo of my son to track his growth. Set a reminder on your phone or make a checklist of important dates, holidays, or special events like their first smile, first laugh, or first crawl so you can be sure to capture these sweet memories.
3. Write Letters to Your Baby
I’m still working on being consistent with this suggestion, but it’s such a lovely concept. Create a timeless keepsake for your little one by writing to them and expressing your thoughts, hopes, wishes, and feelings during this epic first year. You can aim to jot your ideas down even once a month and tuck the notes into a special folder or a digital file (you can even write emails to them and create their own email address) you can share later when they ask about their childhood. The day-to-day grind can feel like a blur, especially in those first few “survival mode” months postpartum, so it’s an excellent way to reflect once life calms down in a few years for you, too.
4. Introduce Your Baby to Music
The magic of music cannot be understated! Experiment with your favorite ’90s jams. Or introduce classical music or rock out to Disney hits with your baby before they turn one. I was on an “Encanto” kick when my son was born, and to this day, he lights up when he hears the lyrics to “The Family Madrigal” blasting throughout the house. It’s a fun, free activity everyone can enjoy together.
5. Explore Instruments Together
Once your baby starts developing more interest in the world and grasping onto rattles or toys, try exploring the exciting world of instruments. Light-up play pianos allow your baby to hear different sounds and make up their tunes. Don’t worry about investing much money in fancy equipment, either. Don’t have a drum? Improvise with pots and a wooden spoon from your kitchen.
6. Exercise with Your Baby
It’s never too early to show your little ones the power of moving their bodies. Family workouts don’t need to be intense CrossFit boot camps. It can be a simple walk or demonstrating basic yoga poses to your little one. Allowing them to explore and play with you will make exercise fun and inviting. My son loves crawling around on my spare yoga mat and giggles at me when I practice downward dog. Going on walks outside can help everyone get fresh air and feel recharged. Seeing the wonder of the neighborhood through your baby’s eyes is so much fun.
7. Plan a Travel Adventure
Plane, train, or automobile; pick a place, and plan. Traveling with a baby before they turn one can feel intimidating and overwhelming for new parents, so you don’t need to go globetrotting just yet. Take baby steps with your baby and plan a trip to a state park you’ve been meaning to explore or a state you haven’t visited. It’s an excellent opportunity to introduce your little one to new surroundings, sights, and sounds and gain parental confidence. The more I ventured out of the comfort of my own home and into the world, the more relaxed I felt behind the wheel, packing the car, and getting out and about.
8. Carve Out Reading Time
For the first few months, it can feel like you’re reading to a swaddled potato who occasionally blinks. Don’t give up on the magic of reading just because your little one doesn’t understand the words. Practice does make perfect here. A day will come when the regular reading activity prompts a flicker of familiarity in your baby’s face. Developing a reading routine before your baby turns one will set a standard and hopefully launch into a lifetime love of reading and learning.
9. Make Bath Time a Fun Activity
Every baby reacts differently to bath time. At first, my son screamed and seemed scared when we placed him in his adorable blue whale bathtub. I have a hunch it was a bit of sensory overload with a scary, new experience. Dimming the lights, playing calming music, introducing interactive bath toys, and cozy towels or robes are all wonderful ways to create an enjoyable environment your little one will love. For us, bath time signals bedtime. We love to lather our baby up in soothing lavender lotion post-bath and incorporate a mini baby massage to signal wind-down time.
10. Enroll in a Baby Swim Class
Speaking of splashing around, consider a baby swim class. Regardless of the time of year your little one was born, there are many options for indoor swim classes babies can partake in. This is a wonderful introduction to water. It also encourages swim safety early on and offers excellent tips and advice for safe water practices for parents. Plus, in my opinion, any excuse to dress your little one up in a tiny swimsuit and snap a photo is a plus.
11. Join a Baby Storytime
Storytime is a fantastic opportunity to join in on a fun, low-pressure group activity before your baby turns one. Not only is it a chance for parents to learn fun nursery rhymes they can repeat during playtime at home, but it’s a chance for your baby to meet and interact with other little ones. You may also meet your new best friend at storytime.
12. Take Your Baby to the Ocean
Depending on what part of the country you live in, this may require additional planning. However, I promise it’s worth the planning.
13. Capture Those Tiny Fingers and Toes
This is one memory you don’t want to miss. Grab some non-toxic paint and some construction paper. Dip those tiny toes and tiny fingers into the paint and press down. Voila! Not only is this a keepsake for your family photo album, but you can recreate this after your baby’s first birthday and beyond. It’s incredible to see the passage of time through the size of your baby’s prints. (Also, this makes an adorable card to mail to the grandparents!)
14. Sing Together
You don’t need to be Beyoncé; I promise your baby will be obsessed with your voice. Belt out nursery rhymes or classic rock and put on a show for your little one. Over time, singing will be a fun activity that your baby will likely chime in on as they become more vocal.
15. Get Professional Photos Taken
If you debated getting professional maternity photos and opted not to (guilty), consider this your sign. Book the photographer to freeze this moment in time. Before your baby turns one, carve out an hour where you and your spouse swap sweats for sweaters. Take an extra 20 minutes applying mascara, and splurge on impractical yet adorable tiny formalwear for your baby. You can’t get this time back, and I promise you won’t regret it when you receive beautiful photos of your little love.
16. Experiment with Fun New Foods
When you decide to introduce solids, try to have fun with them. I felt overwhelmed by the idea of new foods initially. Still, I learned to love introducing new flavors to my son. Whether you are seeing your baby taste a tart strawberry for the first time, fumble with a messy mushed banana, or spit out green peas in protest, every new flavor is a learning moment worth watching. It can be hard to embrace the drooly sticky messes at mealtime but try to have some fun. Your little one will pick up on your energy and associate food with fun before you know it.
17. Plan a Playdate
Okay, so maybe your baby can’t talk yet or play make-believe. That doesn’t mean you can’t plan a playdate with your best friend and their tiny tot. It’s remarkable to see your baby explore playtime with someone their size. Babbling, pointing, giggling, and mimicking one another’s facial expressions as they explore your living room or a picnic blanket provides endless entertainment (for both parents and babes). No pressure to load up on too many overstimulating toys; just let the little ones roll around together, and they’re sure to have a ball.
18. Head to the Zoo Together
Chances are you’ve been showing animal photos to your baby through toys, books, and images for a while now. Imagine the look on their face when they finally meet a monkey in person. A zoo day provides a perfect backdrop for a family stroll and fresh air. It will also be an exciting and memorable sensory experience for your baby before they turn one. Have fun mimicking the animal sounds you’ve probably been making together for months, and feel free to bring along your baby’s favorite stuffy for the adventure.
19. Shop for Baby’s First Shoes
There is nothing quite like the delicious, adorable image of baby feet in pint-sized shoes. Practical? Perhaps not. But those tiny toes deserve nothing but the best. Ditch the digital shopping plan and opt for an old-school shoe store experience. Bonus points for supporting a small, locally owned business in your community. You can show your baby a few options and see if they gravitate toward a particular color or pattern. The shoes you pick together can be the perfect pair to practice walking with your little one, and the memories you make are priceless.
20. Blow Bubbles Outside
For those weary of indoor messes, this is a great activity to check off your list before your baby turns one. Bubbles are a thing of magic and are bound to offer hours of entertainment as your baby marvels at their disappearing act. Bubble wands can be an attractive sensory learning opportunity and an excellent way to get outdoors.
There is no shortage of ideas or unique ways you can memorialize and enjoy the first 365 days of your baby’s life. The first 12 months will be marked by trial and error, lots of laughs, endless kisses, and some tears. Remember to give yourself grace and not pressure yourself to be the “perfect” parent for your baby. A secret I am slowly learning is that there’s no such thing. The only part of parenting that counts is the unconditional love you show your baby. Sitting and staring into your eyes counts as a fascinating activity.