Easy Language & Motor Game for Babies · A No-Prep Educational Treasure Hunt Activity

As a pediatric speech-language pathologist, I'm constantly infusing language into my baby's day-to-day activities to provide a rich learning environment.  Today, I'd love to share with you a fun yet super simple activity to play with your little one during his or her alert time.  It not only involves language, but gets your baby moving too!

This is what I call (not so creative, I know...) the "Search and Find" game!  Scratch that... I think "Treasure Hunt" sounds way cooler.

It's engaging, stimulating, and educational, as it supports a variety of skills.  That would include: language, cognitive, gross motor, and fine motor.  

Here are some areas of focus:
  • Following functional, one-step directions
  • Building receptive vocabulary and semantic associations
  • Practicing joint attention and social referencing (e.g., following a pointing finger)
  • Physical movements (e.g., crawling, standing, reaching)
  • Hand-eye coordination (e.g., picking up, letting go)

All in all, it's a simple activity that is jam-packed with a whole spectrum of skills to encourage development across domains.

The age group that it'd be suitable for is quite a wide range.  I would recommend this activity for infants as young as 6 months who are able to crawl, as well as 9 month old babies, 12 month old babies, 18 month old toddlers, and even two year old children or older kids!  This activity can be adjusted in level of difficulty with some simple twists.  For reference, my baby Lena Rose is 8.5 months old in the sample video below.

What You'll Need

Guess what -- this is a no-prep activity that can be done with ANYTHING!  You don't need any fancy materials or equipment at all.  In the sample video (scroll towards the bottom of the post), I use photo flashcards, but it was really for the sake of convenience for filming, as I have them all in a compact box together.  Rather than flashcards, you can use toys that your baby already has, such as dolls or stuffed animals, books, rattle, ball, etc.  You can also use objects around the house, such as shoes, socks, hat.  I do my best to provide activity ideas with everyone in mind, so that it is accessible to all families.  You don't need to spend money to provide your child a great learning experience! 

However, if you're interested in the flashcards that I'm using, you can find the exact flashcards (old edition) here.  I had gotten these nifty flashcards second-hand, and upon searching for it online, I realize it's out of print now and quite expensive!  Below is the current (and much more affordable) edition

Anyhow, why don't we jump into it?  Here's the breakdown of my super easy "Search and Find" activity!

Search and Find!

A Language & Motor Development Activity for Babies and Toddlers

1. Show the object to your baby and describe it. 

Start off by showing your baby the object or flashcard.  Allow your baby to hold it in his or her hands.  (This is where a 3D object would be more beneficial, as it activates many more senses surrounding elements like texture, weight, etc.).  

Label the object by telling your baby what it is, then describe it.  When you describe the object, you're helping your baby's receptive language and vocabulary skills.  You can provide semantic associations, such as telling about the object's function/use, category, color, feel, shape, and other distinct features.

For example, I show Lena a "baby" card.  "It's baby!"  To describe the baby, I can say: "It's a baby, just like you. Baby is happy. Look at that big smile. Baby drinks milk." 

2. Set the object somewhere in the room for baby to retrieve. 

Place the object or flashcard somewhere visible and accessible to your baby.  For instance, you don't want to set it too far up somewhere if your baby can't reach that high.  If your baby tires from crawling easily, you will want to set it closer in proximity to reduce fatigue and frustration.  Alternatively, if your baby is an enthusiastic ball of energy, you can set the object farther away with some distance.  It's a great chance to give baby a mini-workout! 

To make this game harder for older children, you can be more intentional about hiding the object in a challenging manner for your little one to "seek" it out.  You might have it partially obscured, or even fully obscured by hiding behind, under, or inside something else!

Tip: Try to decrease distractions if possible.  Turn off the TV and get rid of distracting sounds in the background.  Try to rid the space of visual distractions too, such as a lot of clutter.  

3. Have baby find or get the object!

Tell your baby to find or get the object.  If support is needed, you can try using a finger point (a great way to work on joint attention) by pointing towards the object.  You can also model the desired behavior by moving towards the object and picking it up, and then giving your baby his "turn".

Tip: Try not to "overtalk" by speaking too much or too fast.  Babies needs time to process language and the environment around them.  Avoid bombarding them with verbal directions or prompts, and instead, allow some time for baby to learn how to quietly focus.

4. Prompt baby to give the object to you. 

After your baby gets ahold of the object, start off with some verbal praise.  It might sound something like: "Yay! Good job finding the card!", "You got it!", "Nice searching!"  Then, tell baby to give the object to you.  This helps your baby work on functional, one-step directions.

Be sure to "thank" baby after she hands you the object!  

5. Repeat with more objects if desired!

You can gauge your baby's interest and repeat with more trials.  For my 8.5 month old, I like limiting it to 3 objects (or flashcards) per learning session.  It's important not to overwhelm or overtire your baby with too many trials.  

We want to see that baby is learning happily and demonstrating engagement and interest with minimal redirections.  If baby does not appear interested, you may want to try again another time rather than push your baby to do more.  

6. Finish the activity with a quick "review" of what happened.

At the end, gather the objects or cards that your baby went looking for.  Set them together and briefly go over them with a brief narrative of past events.  

For instance: "Today, we looked for three cards: baby, apple, and dog!  Mama put them around the room, you found them, and you gave them to Mama.  You got all three."  

This short spiel might not seem like much, but it's a great way to build foundational language skills, such as sequencing.  It paves way for narrative language in the future, such as: "First, we... Next, we... and Last, we..."

Watch it in action!  

Here is Lena Rose, 8.5 months, participating in this activity with me.

I hope that this easy structured learning game of mine has given you some ideas for playing with your baby.  If you have any questions or would like to share your own favorite games and activities, I'd love to read it in the comments below!

Happy playing!