PLAY, BABY, PLAY
For infants, play is a crucial part of development – it’s linked to how to your child learns, socialises and grows. It opens the door to their imagination, allowing them to discover the world around them and develop their intellect. In fact, developmental psychologists in the United States have found that even playing with something as simple as toy blocks can boost your baby's (future) math skills and problem solving abilities.
Here are a few tips for making the most of indoor playtime with your infant:
Where to play
So where is the best place for babies to play at home? Not the cot, for sure. While it helps to have a designated play room, babies prefer to be with people when they play, so you might find it easier to put a playpen in the room you are frequently in. One solution is to baby-proof a section of the living room for play – use a sturdy plastic gate to fence off a play yard and fill it with toys. As your baby grows, he will learn to haul himself up and hang on to the plastic gate, which are the first steps to learning how to walk!
It is important to hold your baby and carry him close, but equally crucial is the time he spends on the floor to develop his motor skills. Put him down on his tummy to help him build neck and core strength – this is perfectly safe. Tummy time is actually essential for your baby to learn to push up, roll over, sit up, crawl and pull to a stand. In this position, he will also find it easier to reach out for toys.
Let him explore
Get a colourful printed play mat for your baby to explore. Choose one with plenty of textures and noises as well as objects to stroke and grasp. In the early months, he will want to use his mouth to explore the different textures – so make sure the toys are clean and the mat is easily washed or wiped clean.
Mirroring (imitating) your baby and having him copy you is a fun way to bond and learn. Stick your tongue out at your baby or waggle your fingers and see if he copies your actions. Or try playing “peek-a-boo”, or play hide and seek with a toy – show your baby a toy and then hide it behind your back.
Introduce a new toy every day instead of granting your baby access to all his toys at once. Keep all the toys out of sight in a spare cupboard or toy chest, and hand a “new” one out every morning. This way, your baby learns to reach, grasp and thoroughly explore the toy, instead of going from one to the next. This also avoids toy-overload and overly-stimulating your baby.
In the first 12 weeks of their lives, babies are much more responsive to sounds than to sight, so try to play games by chatting or cooing at him. Try varying the sounds you make while letting your baby suck on a dummy – sucking is a sign of how interested your baby is. Change sounds (from “bah” to “dah”, for example) when your baby stops sucking and see if he starts sucking again.
Make things move
Hanging mobiles are great for newborns as moving objects are easier for them to spot. You may like to put them about 12 inches away so your baby can see them. While it might seem to you that your baby is just lying there watching a mobile, but he is actually learning to detect colours, contrasts, edges and shapes – building basic elements of visual perception.
You can be your baby’s playmate
Ultimately, the most fascinating thing to your baby is you! Your baby just wants to spend time with you and other family members. He will want to tug at your hair or ‘explore’ your face. So have fun playing with baby. Talk to him and sing to him – these precious moments will build a stronger bond between the two of you.
Some babies are also perfectly content to play on their own (with you nearby, of course). Letting your baby explore his physical space on his own will build self-confidence as well as trust – it shows him that all he has to do is cry and you are there. Accept your baby’s frustration or anger when this happens – it allows him to feel secure and attached. In this way, your baby can be himself and still feel loved and cherished.