Play on playa
When it comes to play with young children (0-2) I believe in the "less is more" mantra. For this post I'm discussing play for an infant or what I refer to as a back baby (think 0-6 months), pre mobility stage. When a mom reached out to me the other day asking how to set up an ideal play space for her 4 month old at home, I decided to create a blog post on it. This is probably my favorite thing to give advice on because it's an area that many mom’s are in need of guidance with, especially first time moms. Their registries are usually so over saturated with over stimulating toys that people tell them they MUST have and they’re left feeling like that’s their only option for their young baby. Then once they have everything, they feel like they have to use it, before even seeing what their baby truly is in need of. I never like to preach to my friends telling them they don't need the activity gym or electronic mobile that they got or told me I had to have, but when people ask me specifically, I love to provide an alternative way of looking at what play can look like for a young baby. In this partciular case, the mom reached out knowing that I would guide her away from an overly stimulating play environment.
Based on Magda Gerber’s Educaring® Approach and the principle of creating time for uninterrupted play, she knows I have set up play spaces for the classes I teach. So, I guided her on setting up a play space that would allow her to focus on observing what her baby was capable of. RIE’s principle states that “Instead of trying to teach babies new skills, we appreciate and admire what babies are actually doing.”
I told her to lay out a blanket and to put out the following things:
1. A mat or blanket to make a soft, comfortable, safe and clean surface, preferably something solid. Patterns and colors can be distracting for an infant whose eye sight is still developing and we want the toys and objects to be easy for them to spot. Here are some you can shop by clicking on the images or here:
2. A peaked scarf of bandana. Learning from the Educaring Approach, I know that one of the first toys for an infant should be a cloth like this. It is easy for a young infant to hold onto and also feasible to stand it up within their reach. It's interesting, can be manipulated in shape, and often, by chance, they’ll cover their face with it, which is interesting for young babies. The possibilities become endless with an open ended object like this. You can also place the scarf inside of an oball (you can shop by clicking imagine below) which makes the oball possible for them to reach and bring to them.
3. One other object that is simple in form and within arms reach. In this particular case, my friend had a crocheted pretzel toy which was perfect. Don't forget to put things within foot's reach as well, babies will use every limb to grasp a toy!
I like to put out a variety of textures in toys to make the choices different in terms of sensory stimulation.
So some other options are:
Crochet wooden rings also great for sorting and collecting as they get older.
Wooden teethers. Friends of mine have expressed concern over wood toys, will they give splinters? do babies enjoy this texture? the answer is that wood is one of the most ideal materials to give a baby when it comes to safe toys, they love the hard texture and you can't get more natural than wood (when it is treated in the right way).
Linked wood toy babies seem to enjoy that this can be manipulated in a variety of ways.
Silicone Toys. Silicone is soothing on a baby's gums and is a safe alternative to plastic.
She sent me the photos in this post and told me how her baby was content for several minutes reaching for objects and how enjoyable it was for her to simply observe him. There were times he couldn't quite reach an object. At times like this, you can use minimal intervention similar to what is discussed in my post "Get up, get up and get down" using language and proximity before moving an object closer. The times when a baby can't reach can encourage him to twist and often to roll over, which are ways of helping him work through his gross motor development. I thought this may be helpful for other mommies out there who want to create a play set up without taking out the play activity gym they’re dreading using or thinking that the only option they have is tummy time (which ill discuss in another post).
This is similar to how I set up a Parent Infant Observation Class for back babies, where they get to explore the toys around them and also are placed close to one another. I love seeing when they notice one another for the first time, the start of early socialization. Having a baby used to an activity gym potentially prevents them from noticing what's around them. My thinking is that it can take away an opportunity for a baby to notice something as seemingly simple as light, shadow, or what's outside the window. Order one of these chairs to allow you to be comfortable and present during your baby's play time, you'll never want to get up during their play (and you shouldn't!).