This past weekend we had the honor and privilege of having our adopted daughter with her husband and 7 month old boy stay with us for two days. What a tremendous joy to see her baby! He is the solid-pack type boy like both of mine were. He is attentive, inquisitive, and very easily pleased. Though he is teething, most of the time he beamed a gorgeous smile whenever we caught his eye. I thought a lot about toys and playing with babies and small children. So this month I’m going to revisit the topic of play and toys.
Play is a child’s work
The first thing to remember is that though play is fun for children, it is also their work. They are learning something constantly. They are learning that no matter what they do, they cannot get the attention of the powerful people around them, the adults. Hopefully none of the children represented by those of you receiving this letter are learning that lesson! Or they are learning something new or practicing what they have been learning. They learn by observing, by trial and error, by testing the results, and by practice. There is much we can do as the adults around them to help them learn.Toys don’t have to be expensive
The toys our children enjoyed the most were things we already had around the house. There are some things to consider before giving your child household objects to play with:
-Does it have sharp points or edges?
-Are any pieces smaller than two inches (5cm) and could get lodged in a child’s throat?
-Is any paint or glue toxic?
-Is it positioned safely and securely?
Some household items that children find especially fun to play with:
-Plastic container and lids
-Pots and lids
-Cardboard boxes (make sure there are no staples to cut or scratch)
Observe what your child is trying to do
What skill is your child ready to begin learning or what is he or she practicing? How can you break down skills into tiny steps and teach one step at a time? In what ways can you egg your child on to try again and again? Changing the object being reached for may give incentive to try again. Demonstrate new skills and then encourage your child to copy you. Talk about what you are doing or what your child is doing so they learn the language involved about the skill. Praise every little bit of success. Children thrive with praise for accomplishments.
The Treasure Box
This is a box that is tall enough that the child can just reach over the side when sitting or kneeling beside it. Fill it about half full with newspapers so that the box will not tip over by pulling on the side. Put four or five objects on the newspaper for your child to play with. At least some of the objects should be new. Soon he or she will find the box and look over the side to see what’s inside.
The Treasure Box will become their own magic source of new things to play with. Whenever you get new toys, put them in this box for your child to discover. Don’t let them see you putting things in the box. It is better to put only a few things in the box at a time and to change them frequently. If you put too many things in the box at a time, your child may get confused. But fewer toys increases their attention span and you get more mileage out of the toys.
When they are used to going to the box and finding new treasures in it, try moving the box. Let them find its new location to look for toys. For variety, change the appearance of the box by painting it or substitute another box for The Treasure Box. Children especially like things they can do something with, not something they can only watch. They learn by doing.
I am indebted to The Growing Child newsletter for this wonderful suggestion. You may see their web site at: http://www.growingchild.com/GrowingChild.html
Make a Feely Box
Get a box and fill it with lots of different things to feel. Include some fur, tissue paper, sand paper, foam sponge, an elastic strip, Velcro, and similar items. While you and your child sit on the floor, take one piece out of the box at a time. Show how to handle the piece (stroke, stretch, crumble, etc.) Talk about how it feels. Allow your child to handle it and see what to do with it. Encourage free play with these materials from time to time. Occasionally add new materials to the collection.
Rough and Tumble Play
Make an obstacle course for your child. From the time babies can crawl, they love to be challenged to overcome obstacles in their way. Provide some things to climb over, around, or through. A pile of laundry, pillows, phone books, and even a tired parent will work. An empty cardboard box that is open at both ends can be great fun. Get a small toy to “chase” over, under, around, or through the Obstacle Course. Have fun! Laugh a lot.
Blocks have always been a favorite toy for toddlers. We measure their hand-eye coordination by their ability to build block towers. Today we not only have the wooden blocks that children in the past enjoyed, but plastic snap-together blocks are in most kids’ toy boxes. So what good are they?
Dimitri Christakis, writing in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, said unstructured play with blocks stimulates thinking, memory, and physical mastery of objects at a time when a child’s brain is growing rapidly.
Finger Plays and Action verses for Children
Children love to follow your actions and link your words with actions. Do learn some of these lovely activities to do with your child.To learn more about finger plays, rhymes and reasons for these ‘games,” go to: EarlyLiteracyLearning.org. Some other resources: Preschool rhymes, songs with actions videos, songs and actions pages. Please go to their sites and choose some that are appropriate for your child’s age and development.
Much, much more could be said about toys and play. Maybe in future letters I’ll explore more on this topic.