Baby Playtime is More Than Just Fun

Don’t you just love the squeals of joy, the peels of laughter and all the other noises your baby makes while playing? It’s great to watch her have so much fun doing simple little things like shaking a rattle or throwing a ball. But playing is not just fun time for her; it doubles up as a learning time as well.

Mom, I Don’t Have a Clue!
Although your baby is born with sophisticated senses, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and limbs, unfortunately, he doesn’t really know how these senses work together to bring him new pleasures and experiences. Here’s where playing steps in.

Picture this moment of innocent mom and baby play. Your baby opens his eyes to find you near him. You talk to him, he hears, he reaches out to touch your face, he smiles and coos. So, while both of you are having some fun, your baby is not only learning about himself but also learning how to communicate his feelings.

Because infants are only aware of sensorimotor experience, and cannot connect it to things outside of themselves, they do not know how things will react. Therefore, they are always experimenting -- shaking things, putting them in their mouths, throwing -- to learn by trial and error. This playing help lays the foundation for your child’s development.

Play is a Magic Tool
Play is a fun activity but it means serious business. It is your baby’s magic tool. He uses it to jump and hop from one developmental stage to another. Games and fun activities can put your baby on the growth path because play can:

  • Hone Senses and Motor Skills When you sing and call out your baby’s name, he tries to find you and meet your gaze. When he sees a squeaky ball, he tries to grab it, squeeze it, throw it and hears it bounce. By doing all this, he is learning all about vision, hearing, and eye-hand coordination.
  • Teach Social Skills Your baby’s first and best toy is you. Seeing you smile, he smiles back, hearing you talk, he coos back, seeing you wave, he waves back. All his cooing, babbling and waving are ways he has devised to interact with you. It gives him the knowledge about human interaction – giving, sharing and responding.
  • Be the Best Learning Tool Playing is good for your baby’s mental development. Children play with heart and mind. They learn about sizes colors, textures, and weights; they learn that some toys are heavier than others, that a ball bounces and boats float. Counting in early childhood leads to skills in reasoning and logic in later childhood.
  • Teach all about Language All interactive games – rhymes, song-and-dance routines, -- help babies learn about words and how to use them to express their feelings.

When Parents Step In
When left alone to play, your kid can learn all by himself. But your active involvement can maximize the benefits of playing. Here is how you can play a role:

  • Create a safe, playful environment. Your infant is in a very active stage and will try to explore all that is in him and all that lies outside. Give him a safe place where he can build on his physical and mental coordination.
  • Avoid making play a structured plan. Let play happen. Your baby might not take interest in what she is forced to do at a fixed time.
  • Invent games for each babycare activity. Play pitter-patter during bathing, kiss-county (kiss his fingers one at a time, counting aloud as you go: "One little finger - kiss! Two little fingers - kiss!") while changing diapers and Eat-treat (moving the spoon in different ways) while feeding.
  • While playing, act out each song, each instruction when you mouth them. Using sign language taps into a different part of your baby’s brain much sooner than only being exposed to the spoken word.
  • Follow your child’s lead. Your baby may have special skills or special needs. Many kids love their mobiles but if your baby cries when she sees and hears it, it’s better to keep that mobile away from her.
  • Introduce her to outdoor environs. Take your baby to play in parks or a lawn tub. Fresh air and open space is a great stimulator for all her senses.

A Trip to the Toy Store
The market is flooded with all kinds of toys for your baby. But it might be a good idea to stick to the least hi-fi ones. Child experts believe building blocks and Play-Doh are more value-for-money than hi-tech toys. The latter, they feel stifle a child’s creativity and hinders their social skills.

A specialized toy will tell your baby "this is the only way you can operate me". But wooden blocks, crayons, costumes, paints, and balls help babies learn to develop things in their own way.

Keeping in mind your baby’s age, here are some ideas you can "toy" with:

  • Stay away from highly structured toys. Find out more about multi-purpose and unstructured toys, like clay, blocks, generic toy figures, and baby dolls. Encourage play that children can control and shape to meet their individual needs over time.
  • Cuddly - a newborn may be reassured by a soft piece of cloth, such as a muslin square. Many kids love their burp clothes.
  • A bright melodic mobile over your baby's cot will attract your baby's gaze.
  • Baby gym - an activity arch with toys hanging from the bars. It may also have lights and sounds to encourage your baby to grip the toys.
  • Play mat with activities, such as lift-the-flap, different textures to feel, a squeaky button and lots of bright images for your baby to look at.
  • Safety mirror - your baby will be intrigued by the little face he sees, although he won't yet recognize it as his own.
  • Wrist rattle - attached to your baby's wrist like a bracelet, it will jingle as your baby moves his hands.
  • The classic rattle to grip, shake and hear.
  • Chewy toys
  • Soft toys
  • Soft ball - your baby will enjoy squeezing and patting a soft ball, and will be interested to see it roll.
  • Activity center with toys to press, squeak and feel.
  • Bath toys
  • Wooden blocks
  • Building bricks
  • Stacking toys

However, no matter how much you go toy-hunting in the stores, you will find the best baby toy lies in your home: you. You will remain your baby’s most interactive toy. She will learn the most from your actions. So be sure to set a good example: get active and play with your baby!