For babies, playtime is a lot more than having fun – it’s while they play that their busy brains are developing vital life skills. Fiona Baker explores some excellent ways to help your child develop through play.
This story first appeared in Body+Soul
When your baby ‘plays’ he or she is actually doing a huge amount of developmental work – just think of the incredible changes a baby goes through in the first year of life.
In fact, playing is considered such an important part of development that it’s been recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as a right of every child.
Play is a significant contributor to cognitive, physical, emotional and social development and is how children learn rules such as cause and effect, risk-taking, processes and the power of the imagination.
The best plaything a child can have is a parent. Here are some games to play with your babies.
When they’re newborns, do the classic “peekaboo” behind your hands. As they get older, you can do the full-body version.
It plays on babies’ love of faces and expressions, gives the tot your undivided attention and teaches object permanence – that even if something is out of sight, it still exists.
Sing out loud
Even if your voice makes dogs howl, babies have been hearing parental voices, particularly Mum’s, since in utero and the sound is soothing. As they get older, build in actions with classic nursery rhymes or dance and sing to music.
Several studies have found kids respond to music. Singing songs to babies has been linked with improved language skills and teaches tone, beat and rhythm.
Set up a safe environment with pillows, chairs and blankets to encourage your infant to explore their surrounding environment by crawling, rolling, sitting or walking.
As well as gross motor skills benefits, babies need to use navigational and problem-solving skills to manoeuvre through the course.
In and out
Babies can spend hours emptying the contents of a container, such as a box of blocks or a bowl of macaroni, only to put it all back in. When they get older they’ll enjoy the “posting” style of activity in which they need to push something through a slot.
The different objects help babies learn about size, shape and weight and teach concepts such as big and small or empty and full. You can also use it to teach colour and textures.