Learning through Play with Toddlers

Learning through Play with Toddlers

By the age of one your child is developing a lot of new skills. He’s starting to say his first words and by the age of two will be forming short sentences. He’s taking his first steps and is more mobile. He can now reach for things on his own, jump and run. Naturally these changes also reflect on your child’s play and interests.

Children at this age start using their play to make sense of their world and how things work. They’re on the first step to imaginative play and enjoy playing with real life objects like pots & pans, brooms, gardening tools etc.   He’s also beginning to be good at things and with repetition your child eventually masters that skill and moves on to making it more complex.  Toddlers start developing new cognitive concepts at this stage; they start differentiating sizes and noticing if objects are the same or different.

Make sure your child has a variety of toys and experiences. You don’t have to use fancy toys or many toys either.

  • Give your child a safe environment so he can explore and practice his new skills freely. If you see your child doing something incorrectly, don’t be quick to interfere and show him the “right” way. Give him a chance to figure out how to do things or develop his own technique. The thinking process is just as important as the end result. At the same time make sure you are near in case your child asks for assistance.
  • Blocks: are a great way to build simple math and counting skills. Children also develop their fine and gross motor skills and eye-hand coordination as they make their towers taller. They are also using their imagination to make a house, a zoo or table with the blocks.
  • Buckets and boxes: children at this age love filling containers and dumping them.  Make sure there is a designated space where this is acceptable. It’s fun for kids and helps build their motor skills.
  • Colors and paints: you can make your own homemade paint with water/flour/food coloring so it’s baby-safe. Give your child different textures like cotton balls, glitter, tissue paper and pieces of cloth. Place a big paper for your young child on the floor or place it against the wall. Give him thick and thin brushes, rollers or sponges and watch him explore the textures and create their own art. It’s OK if it turns into an all-black painting in the end. Remember it’s all about the process! Your child is expressing himself which adds to his self-confidence and self-awareness. He’s exploring different textures and as a result learning about their similarities, differences and attributes. Some may be easier to stick than others for example or watching how red and yellow make orange! He’s also developing his motor and language skills as you ask him which color he wants, point to and label the different colors and materials. If you don’t want to make a mess indoors try doing it outside in your balcony or garden or place a bigger plastic tablecloth under our child indoors.
  • Pretend play: provide your child with items that are similar to real life like hats, scarves, old clothes. He might enjoy dressing the dolls in some of his own old cloths not doll cloths. More ideas are wands, cowboy boots, fisherman’s hat or doctor’s kit. These help your child learn about the world by repeating real life situations in play and imagining different scenarios and outcomes.
  • Books: are always useful in multiple ways! You can read with your child or let her read on her own. Toddlers are old enough to learn how to hold a book the right side up and put them back when they’re done. Your child can use stories (with your help) to make sense of new situations like having a new baby or going to preschool. It’s also a great way to look again and again and again at items that aren’t in our direct environment like animals, forests, or the sea.

A word about playing with others and sharing

Around 14 months children start playing side by side this is called parallel play. Although they may seem like they are playing together they are not. Their play may be influenced by each other and they may verbally or non-verbally swap items but they have not yet begun to play together. Real sharing and group play starts around the age of three. If your toddler isn’t sharing don’t be alarmed or embarrassed. You can try to give him another toy for a few minutes and tell him his turn is next.  Make sure you give him his turn within a few minutes!

What about television?

The strong recommendation of renowned pediatric association and child experts is to give no TV time before the age of two because it takes away from real life experiences and in reality may delay children in cognitive and language skills. You can read more about TV here.

How much play is enough?

Children play almost all the time and in general besides sleep probably only stay inactive for about an hour a day. The American National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends at least 30 minutes of “structured” physical play which means it’s initiated and let by an adult such as when you dance or try an obstacle course with your child. And at least 60 minutes of free play where your child gets to do whatever he chooses on his own. It’s important to try to maintain a balance of dictating your child’s play and letting your child take the lead. You might still get to be the princess or prince in his imaginative play.




Zero to Three: Power of Learning through Play

Zero to Three: Development of Play Skills

Kids Health: Toddler Play

Raising Children Australia: Toddler’s Play


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici 

Learning through Play with Babies

Learning through Play with Babies

This month we’ll be exploring a series on playing and learning with young children. You may be wondering what play has to do with learning. Can a baby even learn? YES! Children start learning from the moment they are born. It’s not just about learning letters and number. It’s about understanding how things work and how they relate to one another. The point of learning isn’t just to know a piece of information it’s about the learning process that enables us to reach and understand that information. If you consider learning to be a process then you can realize how young children learn from every day experiences. Since play is every child’s natural behavior that’s where children learn the most!

Babies are no different.  All over the world babies exhibit the same behavior; they try to touch everything and try to put it in their mouths. In this stage babies are learning through their senses. They love to touch, feel and taste objects. They turn their heads when they hear a familiar or new sound. Starting around two months babies love interacting with other people. At this age play is different than older children’s play and is mainly about back and forth interaction between your baby and you!

What and how is your baby learning?

In the first year everything is new for your baby. This phase is all about exploration.  By 9 months your baby should understand about cause and effect and that objects still exist when she can’t see them which is called object permanence.

  • When you move a rattle back and forth for your baby she follows it with her eyes, this is called tracking. While this may seem simple enough your baby is learning in the process and it’s the first step in building your baby’s visual skills.
  • Once you hand your baby the rattle she imitates you and shakes it herself. Observation and imitation is one of the ways children learn to use new things. Your baby starts learning about cause and effect when she shakes the rattle (cause) and the sound is produced (effect).
  • Your baby is also developing her hand-eye coordination skills (which is a skill needed later for drawing, writing and eating) when she sees the rattle and tries to reach for it. When your baby moved the rattle from one hand to the other this helps the connections between her right and left brain as well!
  • If you hold two rattles and alternate shaking them while pausing in between this allows your baby to shift her gaze between one object and the other which helps her attention skills.
  • As you and your baby interact in this simple game she’s learning about conversation as you talk to her and wait for her to answer you with a coo or laugh then respond to her. She’s also setting the foundation for language as she listens to you talk.
  • Most of all she’s learning about the object! Without realizing she’s gone through a whole learning process of observing you, imitating and understanding how this rattle works!

What toys can a baby play with?

You can use easy to find objects to play with your baby. In the first three months babies enjoy toys with high color contrast. Choose a rattle that’s black and white for example. Between 3-6 months your baby is starting to reach and grab things and is more attracted to bright colors and toys that make sounds when moved. She’ll also start reaching out to grab your hair and clothes. Here are some more toys and how you can use them.
Important to remember to follow your child’s lead during play so that it’s a fun experience for both of you. Once your child starts looking away, pushing or whimpering these are signs that your baby has had enough of that toy and would like something different or maybe it’s time to relax altogether.

  • Mirrors are great for tummy-time. Find a baby-friendly mirror and place your baby on the floor in front of it. Your baby will be more eager to mover her neck upwards to look at herself and might even crawl forward! It’s a fun way for your baby to spend time on her tummy!

You can also place the mirror in front of your sitting baby and let her point to herself and watch her own interaction with the toys around her.

  • Exploring textures is wonderful for kids to learn. You can start by buying a couple of board books with textures in them that are rough, smooth and soft. You can also fill an old tissue box with different pieces of fabric and watch as your baby pulls them out one by one and explores them. You can talk about how they feel and their colors as well. Make sure the pieces are big so baby doesn’t eat them.
  • Rolling is important for hand-eye coordination and physical development. It’s also fun! Your baby can usually start rolling a ball between 8 – 18 months. You can roll big or small balls with your baby. You can also fill an empty water bottle with colored water, shells or anything interesting for your baby to roll back and forth. Your older baby will probably crawl after it as well while your younger one will communicate with you to roll it back!
  • Music is great for all kids. Listening to music has been associated with increased spatial reasoning. You don’t have to still to kids’ music, try music with drums and a catchy tune. You can give your baby a rattle or show him how to clap or bang on an empty box.
  • You are your baby’s most important tool in learning! You can provide your baby with all the stimulation and interaction he needs. Talking and singing helps his language, emotion, social and cognitive development. Your face is an endless screen of expressions that teaches him how social interaction works. Your actions are a perfect model to how baby should act and behave. Most of all you know your baby more than anyone and can give him what he needs at the right time

Always make sure the toys you use are baby safe. Offer your baby only a few toys at a time and rotate a few items every few weeks to keep your baby interested.  I hope this article has given you an idea on how and what your baby learns in her first year.

Interesting Info!
Why is personal interaction with babies important? Studies on children in institutional care who were getting all the necessary basic care such as feeding, cleaning and sleep but were not getting any social interaction from their caregivers showed that these children were more delayed in their development than other children who were in a family context and received attentive care. Children experience delays in language, cognitive abilities and even growth. These studies showed us just how important social interaction is to a person’s development from a very young age!

Image from FreeDigitalPhotos

Having Fun with your Newborn

Having Fun with your Newborn

I know a lot of parents wonder how to “play” with their baby. Most parents are mainly concerned with getting the feeding, sleeping and changing routine down and making sure their baby is happy. I hear a lot of parents say “Oh i can’t wait till she’s a little bit older so I can play with her!” The good news is you can play with your baby now and odds are she will enjoy it and so will you!
Your baby is already communicating and playing with you in her own way, she also needs all sorts of stimulation. When she coos and makes noises, she’s starting a “conversation” and her journey to language development. Laying her down for some tummy time is the first step to strengthening her muscles and upper body which she will need to start crawling and later to be able to sit at a desk properly.

I’ve collected some fun and creative baby activities from my favourite blogs and books to help you have fun with your baby!

Photo by www.mariamelmofty.com

Your Baby 0-3 Months

At this stage your baby needs to experience your touch, smell and lots of love. The first 3 months are especially hard on parents since you are still getting to know your baby; her temperament and needs as well as getting her to sleep through the night. You can still make the most of everyday routine activities!

  • Bonding

When your baby is alert, fed and has a clean diaper that’s a great opportunity to just sit with her! Take time to listen, look, touch, hold, stroke, cuddle and talk to your baby. Giving your newborn face-to-face time is important. Research has shown that newborns, 2-5 days old, prefer to look at faces that engage them with direct contact rather than faces with an averted gaze. Your face is conveying information about your emotional state; Is Daddy happy? What’s mommy looking at now? Eye contact with your baby is important.

  • Diaper Time!

Include your baby while changing her diaper by talking about what you are doing. Mention what is going on, the parts of the body and what you will do next. Your baby may not understand you now but will eventually learn to pick up on your cues, when you say “Almost done” or “I’m putting your clean diaper on” she knows what’s going on. Talking to your baby during diaper time also tells her what diaper time is about! This may be obvious but some parents can go through the whole process merely saying “hold on”,”just a sec”,”don’t cry” without explaining what’s happening. You may ask why this is important. You can totally change the experience your child has about diaper changing by telling her what’s happening early on. As your child gets older and begins to make sense of your words the experience will be less of a struggle and actually a pretty smooth experience with your child understanding the purpose and process of diaper time.

You can also keep your baby entertained by singing to her or placing a secure mirror along or above the changing table so she can have a good view when being changed. Try having your baby experience different textures like a feather or soft cloth on her tummy. Remember to tell her what you are doing.

  • Bottle or Breast Feeding

Whether you are bottle feeding or breast-feeding, these are precious times to be physically close to your baby.  Use this time to talk with your baby, hold her unoccupied hand or massage her feet. If you are bottle feeding it is recommended that you “switch sides” as a breast-feeding mother would. The reason for this is that research shows there may be more advantages to breast-feeding than nutrition. With bottle feeding babies, parents usually hold their baby on a preferred side which usually stimulates one side of your baby. However, when you switch sides during breast-feeding, both sides (left and right) of your baby are stimulated as you hold her hand, massage her foot and she shifts her eye gaze. When you naturally let your child cross her midline (an invisible line down the center of the body) you are helping build a part in her brain called the corpus callosum which connects the right and left sides together and helps them communicate. You can also stimulate crossing the midline by playing with a rattle at other times.

Other research has suggested that children who are breast-fed may have higher IQs because their mothers tend to communicate and be more verbal than bottle-feeding parents. Feeding time is a great time to bond and just get to know each other. Leave your TV, cellphone or other distractions and spend this time alone with your baby and remember to talk to her.

  • Imitating

Scientists previously (and wrongly) thought that newborns lacked the ability to imitate and that this ability wasn’t developed until babies were 8-12 months old. However, latest research has shown that a newborn as young as 12-21 days can imitate facial expressions like opening her mouth. Imitation is important to people because that’s how we learn how to interact with others. Knowing that babies are capable of mimicking actions may mean they are capable of social learning. When your baby sees you do something and attempts to imitate it or is thinking about it, she does this by using special cells called mirror neurons. Scientists believe these cells are responsible for learning through observation; how children learn to kick a ball, hold a cup or why we yawn when someone else yawns.  So when your baby is watching she is also learning!

When your baby is in a happy and alert state play around with her by changing your facial expression. Bring your face close to your baby and stick out your tongue or open your mouth and hold this for a while, your baby may imitate your expression! You can also encourage her communication by saying “oooooooh. Can you say Oooooh?” wait and see if she imitates you. Try different sounds with your baby.

Remember that children develop skills at different times so remember not to alarmed if your baby isn’t mimicking every thing you do or doesn’t seem engaged by your face. Give her time and revisit these ideas later.

  • Tummy Time 

We usually place babies on their backs, but it’s important to give them some tummy time as well. Tummy time helps develop your baby’s physical skills, she gets to practice raising her head which develops her neck muscles, she also puts some weight on her arms and upper body getting ready for crawling, she gets to kick and move her feet more freely than if she’s in a chair.

Place your baby on a soft surface and lie down next to her so that she is facing you. Keep her entertained by talking to her, singing to her, playing with your facial expressions and encouraging her attempts at movement. Do this for a few minutes several times a day till your baby becomes more comfortable in this position. Once she starts raising her head a bit you can add a mat with a mirror (usually found at toy stores) so she can look at herself and place a few toys just out of  her reach to give her a chance to reach out and grab them and keep her entertained . Try to notice when your baby is most comfortable with this activity; after nap, after a diaper change,etc.. Once your baby is a bit older and starts raising her head you can also place her on your stomach and watch her crawl over and investigate your face.

Always closely monitor your baby while she is on her tummy on the floor as some babies may rest their face right on the floor which could restrict breathing!

  • Peek-a-Boo!

An all time favorite, babies love to play Peek-a-Boo!  Playing Peek-a-boo teaches your baby that just because something isn’t there doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, this is known as object permanence. This is a the first stage to mental representation which is a step in functions requiring memory.

When your baby is facing you, hide your face with your hands or with a cloth then remove the cloth and say “Boo!” and smile. In the beginning your baby will be surprised, as you continue she will learn to expect your smiling face and smile back at you.

I hope this post gave you some practical and useful ideas on things to do with your newborn 🙂

This post was inspired by Bright from the start by Jill Stamm and 365 Games Smart Babies Play by Sheila Ellison & Susan Ferdinandi.