How To: Baby Play
When you've just had a baby, and you're in that new-born fog of exhaustion, healing and the steepest learning curve known to human kind, play is probably the last thing on your mind. A tiny new-born really only needs your comfort to thrive, but as they become more alert, and awake for a bit longer between feeds you might wonder where and how to start playing. Before we get started, I need to remind you that all baby play must be supervised at all times. Secondly, all play that you do with your infant is supporting their development - how amazing is that! I will break down this post into typical phases of development with a rough guideline of age, but remember that every child is different and may reach these stages earlier or later than others, or skip them out completely! If you have any concerns about your baby meeting milestones please call your Health Visitor. OK, now we can begin!
The key with newborns is to not over-stimulate. Almost all baby play is sensory, so strip back and stick to one stimulus at a time, for example some colourful fabric can: stimulate the sense of sight, touch, sound all in the same activity! When Big was a week old I would put a rattle that had an elephant on the handle into his Moses basket, tucked down the side of the mattress- he would study it for ages. The fact that the elephant had contrasting colours and remained motionless meant that he was able to focus his gaze for a few moments. The first three months of a baby's life are often referred to as the Fourth Trimester, where babies want to be held and fed All. Of. The. Time. This is down to evolution, a held baby is less likely to be eaten by a sabre toothed cat than a baby who is sleeping in a basket! In many ways, the newborn stage is about survival for us all!
Recommended activity for newborns: sensory bottles, make a sensory bottle using oil and glitter, shake it up and put it where baby can watch the glitter swirl and fall, it's great for tummy time too!
Moving and Rolling (3-6months)
Around about 3 or 4 months old your baby will be able to track a moving object, this is the time to gradually incorporate movement into your play. Baby will also be moving themselves much more. Many bouncy chairs have a bar of hanging toys across the front, the reason for this is so that when babies wriggle and flail their limbs they knock the toys which then rattle or jingle. This will encourage baby to try again to deliberately cause this sound and to eventually reach out to touch the toys. Encourage any attempts that your baby makes to reach out with lots of praise, it's a vital skill! Tummy time is really important for building muscle strength and stamina to be used for rolling, but many babies really hate it! A way to make it more enjoyable is to pop something down on the floor for baby to look at. Little and often is the way!
Recommended activity for movers: carefully tie balloons on ribbon to baby's arms and feet and watch their amazement in the cause and effect of them moving their limbs.
Recommended activity for rollers: put a toy, book or much desired object of interest (phone, keys, tv remote - all the usually forbidden things!) to one side of baby so that they naturally twist their body to get a better look, and practice that rolling manoeuvre.
There are lots of games that you can play with a baby who is able to sit. Highchair games are fantastic and can be used to develop loads of skills! Use masking tape to stick some toys to their highchair tray, they will pick and pull in an attempt to free the toys which is great for building hand muscle strength and developing pincer grip. A good activity for when baby is sat on the floor is to place toys all around their body, this will encourage them to twist, turn and to cross the mid-line which are all excellent for building core muscles.
Recommended activity for sitters: Pat Mat - fill a ziplock bag with water beads, or a squirt of paint, seal and allow baby to poke, prod, squish and squeeze to their hearts content.
Crawling (6 - 9months)
If your baby has or is about to start crawling then your parenting experience is about to change up a level! Cupboards, drawers and low shelves are about to be emptied continuously, hot drinks will never be put down on the floor again and baby can, and will follow you especially when you're trying to cook! With new skills come new games!
Recommended activity for crawlers- baby safe obstacle course. Place lots of cushions and pillows over the floor for baby to crawl over. The difference in levels is great for developing core stability and strength.
I call this the bumpy phase, steel yourself for lots of bumps and bruises! Baby is learning to coordinate their motor skills and it's a process of trial and error! To encourage this it's really good to facilitate reaching up high and down low, it's a great work out! Most likely baby will be happy to potter about and explore, but if you want to do specific activities with them to support their development Occupational Therapist Vicky (@vickyrobinsonot) suggests using some sticky back plastic and sticking it to the wall (sticky side out) at shoulder height. Pop some pompoms or craft sticks to the plastic at different heights and baby will have to reach up and across to pull them off. You could do the same activity but on the floor to encourage baby to reach and squat down, which will help develop their balance.
I hope that this helps, enjoy your baby and remember: any play is play that is supporting their development.