I am lucky enough to be god-mother to a gorgeous ten month old little girl and looking after her always gets me thinking about how important play is for babies. Just the simplest toy or item from around the home provides an opportunity for learning, skill development, exploration and experimentation.
I have a bunch of baby toys still in Ed's cupboard. I have got rid of quite a few, but there are some that both the kids enjoyed so much (and still do on occasion) that I haven't been able to part with them. And it's a good thing too given that I still regularly have a baby in the house.
The wonderful thing about babies is that they'll play with just about anything you give them. Everything is new and wonderful, so chances are they'll pick it up, have a shake and a good look, put it in their mouth and move it around a bit. If they like it or are interested, they'll hold on to it for a while and have a bit of a think about what else they can do with it, if they don't, they'll put it down and move onto the next thing.
I've learnt a few tricks over the years about engaging babies in play and I thought I'd share some of the things I bear in mind when I'm getting toys together for my god-daughter. Here is a photo of the group of toys I gave her last time she was here.
Tip 1. Don't give a baby too many toys.
They get overwhelmed really easily and I always found that giving my babies a lot of toys would mean they spent less time exploring each toy individually and would randomly move from one toy onto the next. A few specially chosen toys at a time is a much better option.
Tip 2. Include toys that they can explore and experiment with.
The stacking cups and ball you can see in the picture are loved by every baby who comes into contact with them. The ball is easy to hold and chew, can be thrown or rolled and babies are intrigued by the multitude of holes and ways it can be held. The stacking cups can be used lots of different ways too and it's great to include a dummy or smaller (baby safe) toy that can be put inside the cups.
Tip 3. Always include a book and a furry friend.
Books for babies are wonderful. They learn very quickly how to turn pages and hold the book the right way up so that the pictures can be seen properly. I have taught a few children in my time who can't handle a book correctly at aged 4, it's something that comes with exposure and practice and I personally don't think kids are ever too young to start.
Soft toys are fantastic for developing motor skills and eye hand co-ordination. Babies also love to sit and babble to their furry friends which is great for early language development. Soft toys can also be very reassuring for a baby who is getting used to sitting by themselves to play with mummy just out of view.
Tip 4. Put everything into a baby-safe container.
This creates an activity in itself as baby takes each item out and then puts some back in. Some babies will really enjoy including a lid that can be taken off and put back on. You can see in the picture I've used a small plastic storage container, but empty shoe boxes and large metal mixing bowls work just as well.
Tip 5. Include some items from around the home.
Babies are drawn to everyday items. I think it's natures' way of getting them to learn about the environment they live in. They have an intrinsic desire to seek out items, explore them and find out how they work. It's a beautiful thing. You can see I've made some shakers using grains and soft drink bottles, put some crinkled up catalogue paper into a knee hi stocking and thrown in some empty plastic fruit and yoghurt container. It's not surprising that these were my girl's favourite toys!
It's REALLY REALLY important to note however, that everyday items have not undergone the stringent safety testing that baby toys have (obviously, I know, but it needs to be said!) Babies should always be supervised when they're being given something for the first time and the item should be continually checked for wear and tear and possible safety hazards. Never give a baby anything that is small enough to fit into a film canister and always listen to you inner voice - if you have the slightest doubt about something, take it away.