The Power of Play
Written by POC Staff Writer
THE POWER OF PLAY
Studies Show that Playtime Provides Critical Learning Time for Baby
By Sandra Gordon
Playing with your baby may not seem like much more than a fun fest, when, say, he coos at his rattle or tries his hand at stacking ‘donuts.’ But make no mistake. What looks like downtime to us is work to little ones--and toys are the tools for getting the job done.
In fact, when you choose toys and activities that track with your child’s development, you’re speaking your baby’s language and helping him foster cognitive and social skills he can build on. But don’t give toys all the credit. You’re a key player in the process. The most important toy is the parent and other caregivers because babies crave one-on-one social interaction and need the security it provides.
With this in mind, we decode three classic play time activities for newborns to 2 year olds. Read on to find out what your baby learns from them--and what you can do to play up their important lessons.
SHAKE, RATTLE AND MANIPULATE:
NEWBORN AND UP
Born with natural curiosity, babies gather information about the world through their senses. Rattles especially fascinate newborns to 3-month-olds; they’re also intrigued by toy keys, an interest that can carry on into toddlerhood.
What Babies Learn: With both toys, babies discover how something feels, sounds, looks and tastes. They can see their bright colors and shapes, feel their smooth or nubby texture, hear their rattling or clinking sound, mouth them, which paves the way for brain development. Babies also learn about cause and effect—that if they shake a rattle or keys, they make a sound, which provides an element of surprise all babies adore, says Goldberg.
The best rattles make their noise visible so your baby can connect sound to sight. It’s preferable to get rattles with clear plastic so your baby can see the beads inside.
Game Plan: For newborns, mold your baby’s fingers around a rattle or key ring and have him shake it or help him make the sound. (For babies 6 months and younger, play is parent-driven; after that, your baby takes over.) Shake a rattle or keys at various points of your baby’s sight so he’ll enjoy the surprise of hearing the toy’s sound from different angles. Also, have your baby grab for toys with either hand to help develop both sides of her brain; sometimes present toys on her right side, sometimes on her left. Your baby won’t show true hand dominance until age 2.
“I SEE YOU!”
4 MONTHS AND UP
By the time your baby is 4 months old, she’ll begin to understand the notion of object permanence—that if you or an object is out of sight, you or it still exists. To reinforce that concept, now’s the time to start playing peek-a-boo (hiding your eyes behind your hands and peeking at your baby, then covering your eyes again), and its many variations.
What Babies Learn: With peek-a-boo, 4 to 5 month olds learn that, in fact, you’re still there when you hide behind your hands. The game also builds memory skills, especially if you play peek-a-boo in conjunction with objects, such as covering a toy car with a blanket, and asking your baby, ‘Where did the car go?’ (while looking perplexed, of course). For babies six months and older, who know you’re still there when you cover your eyes, peek-a-boo is about enjoying the social interaction of playing along with you. The game still provides an element of excitement and surprise children never outgrow.
Game Plan: Try all sorts of peek-a-boo ploys: “During bath time, have toys disappear under a washcloth, then magically reappear,” suggests Stacy DeBroff, author of The Mom Book: 4,278 Tips for Moms. Cover your face with a paper, then uncover it—again and again. Hide behind a door or a piece of furniture, but leave your hand or foot in sight as a clue. Invite your baby to come and find you. (“Where’s mommy?”)
THE BIG BANG:
4 TO 15 MONTHS
When your baby starts to reach for things as well as crawl, cruise, pull to stand and walk, she’ll have greater access to household objects and toys and start to explore them by shaking, throwing, dropping and especially, hitting them together. Babies love to bang.
What Babies Learn: Crashing two objects together reinforces the notion of cause and effect: that if your baby hits them hard, they make a loud noise, lightly and they make a soft noise. The experience of exploring objects through sound effects also helps children understand what’s big, what’s little, what’s heavy, what’s light, what’s rough, what’s smooth, what’s up, what’s down, what’s next to and what’s around.
Game Plan: Think outside the toy box. Fill an bottom kitchen drawer or bookshelf with toys and objects from around the house your baby can safely beat, pound, batter and whack, such as plastic and metal bowls, pots and pans with lids, golf and ping-pong balls, wooden spoons and an egg beater, for starters. Change the objects often (surprise!) and don’t forget to get involved since babies and toddlers crave interaction. (“Oh, golf ball soup. Yum!”)