Use the right toys at the right time to help your little one develop

We know that children develop through play but it’s not always easy to know how to support them. brightplaybox encourages your child’s development by delivering the right toys, books and sensory activities at the right time.  

The first few years are the most important period for your baby’s brain development. During this time your little one will learn how to think, communicate, work through problems and build relationships. By age 3 your child’s brain will have reached 80% of its adult volume. The first messages that the brain receives therefore have a huge impact on development.   

When it comes to play it’s important that your little one has the right level of challenge.  Succeeding at challenges builds brain power, increases motivation to learn and teaches important life-skills. If you give your little one a toy that is too simple they will get bored and if you give one that is too complex they will get frustrated.

The First Year
Your baby is born not only with the ability to recognise human faces but also to understand different expressions.  Whilst your baby is born only able to see high contrast colours around 20cm in front of them, by the end of this year they can distinguish all colours. They can even accurately reach out and touch what they want to as their hand-eye coordination improves.  Their movement and control over their body hugely improves, as they go from not being able to support their own head to moving about by the end of their first year. 

Great toys for the first year
- Use a high contrast black & white book to stimulate baby’s vision – use from birth.
- Stimulate their senses by introducing them to new textures, sensations & noises – from birth.
- An o-ball will help baby’s grasping & hand-eye coordination– use from 3 months.
- A toy on wheels will encourage baby to crawl – use from 8 months.

The Second Year
One of the biggest developments in the 2nd year will be your toddler’s language – their vocabulary will increase about 4 times this year and this is reflected in significant activity in this area of their brain.

The other big development is that your ‘baby’ now understands that they are their own person and so begins their journey of self-awareness along with greater expression of their own opinions and emotions.  It’s the beginning of a challenging time for them where they want to do far more than they are able to. 

They are now better able to understand the world around them and start to understand cause & effect and how to manipulate objects to get the outcome they want. They’ll also make huge strides in their movement (literally) and you’ll see your little one walk, run, jump and begin to throw and kick a ball. 

Great toys for the second year
- Use a shape sorter to help problem solving – from around 14 months.
-Building blocks will help baby work on their decision making & understand cause & effect as they start to learn how to build– from around 14 months.
- Toys that allow tot’s to use their creativity during imaginative play – introduce from around 16 months.

5 easy ways to enhance play with your baby

Why did no one tell me how hard it can be playing with a baby?

I consider myself a relatively capable individual so I was shocked when I realised just how hard it can be to play with my son, J. How can it be so difficult to work out what to do? As a first time mother I found myself clueless when it came to knowing how best to play with J to help him develop.

I wish I knew these 5 things sooner as they help me and J get the most out of play and also take the pressure off.  Having a baby isn’t easy and hopefully this will make playing a little easier for some of you. 

1. Giving your baby your time and attention is a great way to help their development.

Show your baby how fascinating they are (I found this easy as every tiny thing J did and does is the most amazing thing to me – first time mother syndrome!). By behaving positively towards them you will be building their confidence and the bond between you.  Achieve this by making eye contact and getting down to their level.  Make time each day to play with them outside of the ‘daily grind’ of feeding, changing, washing.  Play can be as simple as dancing around the kitchen, singing a song, pulling funny faces etc.  They will benefit from having your attention, even if you’re just showing them how you do the laundry. 
Don’t be hard on yourself when you don’t want to play.  That’s fine.  It’s important that you take a break and do something for you, even if it’s just finishing that cold cup of tea! 

2. Use the right toys for the age of your baby to enhance play
There are a crazy amount of toys out there. The choice can be overwhelming but it’s important to get it right. Using the right toy at the right time will help your baby develop. If you use toys that are too challenging they will get frustrated and if you use toys that are too simple they will get bored. So here are my tips for choosing the right toys:

  • Use manufacturers ages as a guideline only, depending on the development stage of your baby they may be able to use a toy suggested for an older age e.g. J loves his shape-sorter even though it’s recommended for 1+.  

  • Get a variety of toys that cover different development areas and think about what your baby needs. E.g. if you want to help them with movement get a toy with wheels, with their hand eye coordination and learning get a shape-sorter etc.  

  • Speak to other mums to see what their children like, there is nothing like getting a good recommendation.  

Some of J’s favorite toys: 

i. Sensory ball. Simple but brilliant. J had this ball from about 3 months and because of the textured surface he could grip it from the beginning. He’s also always been fascinated watching it roll which helps his movement. Now he’s able to roll it around himself, drop it and crawl after it. He also loves watching me throw it. The older he gets the more he can use this to improve his fine and gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

ii. Building blocks. These blocks are brilliant, they are really squidgy and bright and J loves knocking them over, he isn’t quite able to build them himself yet. He also loves chewing away on them to relieve his teething. I love them because they also double as bath toys as they float in water. In terms of development they help his hand-eye coordination, learning and movement.

iii. Drum. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think much of this drum when it first arrived but J disagreed. This is one of his go-to toys. He absolutely loves sitting shaking it (pretty vigorously) and banging it as loud as he can. He also loves watching the little balls inside rattle around. It really encourages his language as he babbles along with it and makes up his own noises as accompaniment.

3. The world inside and outside your home is a fascinating place for your baby and provides lots of easy activities for you
Everything is new for your baby. Everything. I’m loving discovering the world all over again through J’s eyes and reminding myself how amazing it is. Inside your home there are loads of wonderful experiences waiting for your little one: banging kitchen utensils, watching the washing machine spin, touching dried pasta, fluffy towels or running water. J loves loves loves playing with plastic bottles. 

The outside world offers endless stimulation. Think how much you see on a walk: (at the moment) gorgeous crunchy red and golden leaves, squirrels, cars, houses, dogs, people, shops. Supermarket shelves offer an exciting world of colours and shapes (although this doesn’t make for the quickest shop!). Point and talk to your baby about all the things they are seeing. J loves watching children playing in the park even though he can’t properly join in yet. All these activities are so easy, you’re probably doing these things anyway – the good news is these are helping your baby develop.

4. Messy play is so much fun, it’s surprisingly easy and it doesn’t even have to be that messy!

I didn’t know about messy play before J and to be honest I was a little put off by the name.  But when I learnt how hassle-free and fun it could be I was hooked.  One of my favourites is adding corn flour to water.  It’s solid when you pick it up but then becomes a liquid in your hand.  It’s hard to describe exactly but it feels awesome and it’s almost as fascinating for you as it is for your little one! You can also mix flour and oil for a squidgy consistency and whisk your baby’s bath gel to make a fun foam they can play with.  To minimise mess I put a big towel on the floor, put J in a coverall and keep him away from furniture.  You will have the items for all these activities in your house and will be able to put them together quickly with great results.  I'll be posting my messy play adventures on this blog. 

5. It's important for your baby to learn to play on their own

Yes your baby needs your time but they also need to learn to play on their own, even if for a short while. You can leave your baby to play with some toys on their own in a safe environment, this will be easier once they can sit. You can stay in the same room and watch them, but try and get to a stage where you can leave them to play without them needing you to join in. You'll be helping you child learn independence for the future and doing yourself a favour too!

How does my baby develop?

As a Mum I know I have a huge part to play stimulating the development of my little man, J.  And boy did that terrify me at the beginning – oh the responsibility! But actually, I’ve learnt that it can be easy and lots of fun to help him develop and see him changing and becoming more able.  He learns from everything.  Everything.  So, it’s all about turning ‘the everyday’ into fun experiences.  As a bit of a geek, I like to understand how J will develop so I can get the most out of our play sessions.  I’ll be sharing what I’ve found and the activities I use in this brightplay blog.  Like many things, I think the beginning is always a good place to start.  So, here is some info on the different ways little ones develop. 

Play is one of the ways your baby develops and this starts from the moment they are born.   
Young children have so much to learn and most of this is done in their first 3 years, from walking to running; talking to joking and reading to writing... the list is endless!  As parents we can’t start playing too early. 

Here’s how your baby develops                                                    

There are 5 key developmental areas for your baby:

Communication: your baby learns to communicate and then speak.  Their first ways of communication will be non-verbal e.g. crying and laughing then pointing at objects and grabbing things. 

Learning: your baby has a lot of learning to do e.g. remembering (such as how to help you when getting dressed by putting their arms or legs out), decision making (which toy they want to play with), problem solving (e.g. what shape goes in which hole in the shape sorter), and cause and effect (if they clap their hands it makes a sound).

Movement: made up of fine & gross motor skills. Fine motor skills are the small movements your baby makes e.g. picking up small items of food, playing with toys and touching objects. Gross motor skills include the bigger physical developments e.g. learning to roll, sit, crawl, walk, throw, kick etc.

Hand-eye coordination: your baby learns how to reach out for items, bring their hands together and understand about how they can reach something. 

Social & emotional: your baby learns and understands about themselves and others