Play involves the interaction of physical, intellectual and emotional development and is the primary method of learning for infants and toddlers. Therapists from Children’s Hospital’s Early Intervention Program share the following ways to encourage learning through play for young children along with age-appropriate toys you can make at home:
Infants mainly learn from looking and listening and all places an infant spends time – high chair, car seat, floor, grocery cart, crib, etc. – are considered play and learning environments. Parents are encouraged to talk to infants while performing everyday activities, provide eye contact as much as possible, and stimulate all five senses when playing. For those under 3 months, position play things 7-24” from their eyes and put toys where their hands will be spontaneously moving about; toys for this age include mobiles, play mats and rattles. Around 3 months, infants begin to coordinate hand movements so try textured toys and blankets for swiping and batting. As infants are able to grasp and shake objects, stacking rings, shape sorters and toys that make noise are great options, as are soft or board books.
Make at Home: To stimulate the sense of touch, stroke the baby with different textured soft items such as silk, feathers, cotton, etc.
At this stage, with more control of body motions, babies explore a variety of play experiences with their hands, mouths, feet, arms and body, and develop the concepts of size, shape, texture, weight and speed. Good playtime options involve taking items out of containers, crawling after balls, banging and pounding, practicing releasing objects midair, and looking at books.
Make at Home: Let child play with large, child-safe magnets on a cookie sheet or make your own Fill & Dump Game: fill a laundry basket or large bowl with household items, such as spoons, cups or cut-up sponges. (Note: Anything that fits through a toilet paper roll is a choking hazard.)
As toddlers become more mobile, play centers around exploring their environment so it is important to create an environment that allows the child to “get into everything” without getting hurt. At this stage, play involves more than just toys; everything from taking baths to following a parent around the house, petting animals, dancing, feeding, dressing or riding in the stroller can be “play-full” learning experiences, especially if parents explain what is happening and label everything for the child. Also, as toddlers love to push, pull, pound, climb and run; this is a great age for toys that develop motor skills such as pound-a-ball games, sand boxes, and pull/push or riding toys.
Make at Home: Two-liter bottles and a soft ball make a great homemade Bowling Set.
At this age, play is important in building self-esteem and parents/caregivers are encouraged to praise accomplishments, which likely include building skyscrapers with blocks and similar creative activities. Children begin to imitate one another during play, start to use words to recreate real-world events, and engage in pretend play. Tea and kitchen sets; construction toys; and cars, trucks and trains are helpful in stimulating creative and pretend play. Art supplies are also great for this age. Keep in mind that modeling the types of interactions you want your child to develop and respecting a child’s interest in solitary play are important at this stage.
Make at Home: Using aquarium tubing or pipe cleaners as a base, household items such as pasta, spools and cereal can be used for a creative Stringing Activity. Parents should provide close supervision, especially if using small objects that can be choking hazards.
For more information, contact Children’s Hospital’s Infant Services Department at (804) 228-5818. Click here for additional information on Developmental Milestones.
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