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!