Somebody Come and Play With Baby!

Babies have an insatiable need to play. It is, in fact, the way they learn about the world. Because babies and young children learn best through sensory experiences in a concrete way–rather than learning through hearing someone talk about a subject–the play that your child is doing is the most direct way for her to build a foundation of understanding about the physical world around her. What we tend to take for granted–for example the way that a door will open and close, the way a light switch will bring light, or the way a triangle shape will NOT fit into a square shape–the child will need to learn through repeated experiences.

Adults tend to “play” in ways that show mastery. We enjoy games that have set rules that we follow.  For example: card games, tennis, golf or knitting. Young children do not yet have the sense that they need to master a task–the product is not nearly as important as the process.

How can we help children to learn about their world through play? By playing with our children in the way that is most comfortable for them. When caregivers engage in play, our children are likely to extend the task they are working on because the very best play thing in a child’s life is the trusted adult who loves her. The way we engage in play will make a difference in how effectively our children learn the foundational concepts they are working to understand.

Here are some tips for helping your child take the lead in play–so that she is directing her own learning, while being supported by you.

  • Shift away from assuming there is a “correct” way to play with an object. Let your child explore toys and objects in the way that interests them. Likely, they will learn exactly what they set out to when we give them the space to explore in their own way.
  • Follow your child’s mood when choosing a play activity. If he is feeling excited and energetic, physical play makes sense. If he is feeling quiet and cuddly take advantage of the moment and play a soft singing game or go through a book quietly.
  • Adjust your pace to your child’s when you are playing. Tasks that we do quickly take a lot longer for a child. Reaching for a toy, responding to your voice, making a deliberate move to adjust position, all of these things take time. If we are to follow the lead of our child, we need to follow their timing. Wait, wait wait and wait before you do something for your child or assume they are not going to respond (It can be helpful to count to 10 or 15 in your head). You will likely be delightfully surprised by what they are able to do if you give them the time to do it.
  • Young children like toys that have a familiar feel, with just a bit of novelty. Young children revel in the routine and familiarity of the world around them, it gives them the confidence of knowing what is coming so they can concentrate on learning something new. Provide items and toys that are familiar, but that are open ended so that your child can continue to do something new with them when he is interested in learning more. Examples of open ended toys include: dolls, stuffed animals, rattles, blocks, unbreakable mirrors, toys to grasp and mouth (mouthing toys offers baby a huge wealth of information about an item, and is a great way for them to learn), balls, toys that allow filling and emptying containers and toys that nest and stack. Don’t forget that every household item is new and exciting to baby-and therefore a toy. Ensure that what you are giving to baby is safe to mouth and play with, and then allow them to explore what you have on hand in the house.
  • Often one or two toys or objects at a time is enough for baby. If there are too many items, it can be overwhelming. However, baby is likely to become bored with objects after having fully explored them, so a supply of items and toys that can be shifted will help to keep baby’s interest without overwhelming his senses all at once.
  • Because we are putting baby to sleep on her back, use play time as tummy time.
  • Play is fun! Enjoy this time with baby. Watch the pride and joy light up her face as she learns something new about the world around her!

One Response

  1. […] November 11, 2015 · by Oh My Parenting Team · 0 hopkinsparent.com […]

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