You would be forgiven for thinking the title of this article is a little patronizing. Who doesn’t know how to play with their infant or toddler, right? And even if you don’t have kids, it’s something that you would think you would pick up naturally. This is, of course, true in one sense – and you certainly shouldn’t turn what should be a joyful intuitive experience into a carefully planned chore – but did you know that play is one of the most important educational and developmental activities that babies, toddlers, and young children can engage in?
In fact, at such a young age, play is perhaps the primary way that a child learns about the world and how to relate to other human beings. There have been mountains of scientific literature written on this topic and a whole field of psychology is devoted to studying the early development of children and babies. The simplest interaction that a child makes with its environment and the other beings who populate it can be considered a new and vital lesson on the path to be becoming a healthy and well-adjusted person.
Therefore, we really can learn something from the experts when it comes to how we should play with our children. There are a range of helpful tips and advice that can be applied each time you get silly and have fun with your baby or toddler.
Play for Babies and Toddlers
Another fascinating aspect of child development is that, as the type of play a child engages in changes as they grow (from, say, playing with soft toys to beginning to take part in sports), so too do the skills they learn. At each stage of their growth, play changes and teaches the child new lessons along the way. And for all the pre-school years, play can in fact be considered a child’s real education.
For babies and toddlers, play teaches the most elementary skills, the ones that are built upon as the child grows and develops. At this stage, a child is not typically engaging in any rules-based games but rather learning, for the first time, how to relate to objects and people. This might not sound like much, but it is the fundamental upon which all further education and development is based upon. Humans are fundamentally social animals, and healthy development relies on the very basics of human interaction, which are learned through playtime in these first couple of years.
And for babies and toddlers, playtime is not just about learning the basics of human interaction – it is also the most important time to learn object interaction as well. This is precisely why soft toys are so important for children at this age. A child can fully explore these objects – touch them, taste them, throw them around – without any danger of injury. What we see here is nothing less than the child learning to interact with the world.
All the way to adulthood, play is important. But there is a good case to be made that these early years are the most important.
Playtime Tips for Parents
So, how can you get the most out of playtime with your baby or toddler? How can you make the experience both fun and educational for your child? Of course, there is no set correct way to play with your child, but there are some tips you can follow to heighten both the fun and value of playtime.
Follow Your Child’s Lead
As the parent and caregiver, you are naturally the person who provides the toy or the activity for your child. But the thing about exploring the world is that it needs to be done at one’s own pace and style. Therefore, do not worry about your child playing with the toy the wrong way or doing something you didn’t expect. Let them show you a new way.
Take Things Slow
Going slowly here means making sure that things do not become frustrating for the child, but only doing that and no more. Again, it is about letting the child go at their own pace. For example, you might show your child how a toy works the first time they play with it but on subsequent occasions let them figure it out for themselves – as well as giving them the time to do so.
Pay Attention to Signals
Chances are, your baby or toddler isn’t quite fluent in the English language yet, so it’s important to know what they’re trying to communicate by other means. Any mother will know this almost intuitively, but it is important too to act when the child is showing signs of giving up or becoming frustrated. This is the best time to jump in and direct things for a while.
Choose an Ideal Play Space
To keep your child safe when they are playing, you need to make sure that the area they are playing in is safe – especially because they cannot exactly follow given instruction on what not to put in their mouth or where not to stick their fingers! But beyond just safety concerns, removing the possibility of injury also ensures that a child can explore to the fullest extent without any intervention on the part of parents to stop them doing something because it could be dangerous. Later in life, learning to recognize danger will be an essential part of their development, but before they go trying to walk along a metal railing or climb inside the yellow grit bin outside, they should be able to act as carelessly as possible in an environment where nothing can go unpleasantly awry.
Don’t Worry About Things Getting Repetitive
Sometimes, a child will seem to repeat the same activity over and over again. This might make playtime a little more boring for the adults, but it is in fact an exceptionally good sign. This means that your child is concentrating on a task, trying to overcome a challenge, or trying to develop some skill. This is a great sign, and you shouldn’t interfere by forcing them onto something new.
Playdates are a part of a children’s playtime that is normally associated with older kids. However, as human interaction is so important and is developed from the earliest stages, it is a great idea to get other kids or even babies involved in your child’s playtime. Doing so can prove mutually beneficial.
In conclusion, there is really no underestimating the importance of play for a child’s development. And while it may come naturally to most parents, it is surprising how keeping a few things in mind can make playtime even more beneficial than it already is.