I was recently interviewed by one the local branches of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) on the importance of play and how play impacts on your baby’s development. I thought that it would be worthwhile going into a little more detail about play in this video.
Play is important for your baby’s development for a number of reasons:
Play motivates your baby to gain mastery of his movements and his body as he reaches for you or toys in his environment. All newborns have really poor control over their movements but this improves as they explore the things around them. Think about how many times a baby reaches for a toy before they are able to successfully grasp it. Each time they try, they are learning about how their bodies work and how to change their movements so that they can effectively grasp that toy.
Play motivates your baby to gain mastery of his movements and his body.
Play is also important in helping your baby to understand the properties of objects and how the physical world around them works. For example, they learn that a block just lands when thrown but a ball rolls. Also, some things are hard, soft, cuddly, or wet. It is this in-built desire to play that gets your baby moving and exploring so that they can learn how the world works.
Another really important aspect of play is that it allows children to gain social skills. Skills such as communication, turn taking, sharing are all mastered (or attempted) at an early age. We may need to step in here to help our baby to learn how to interact appropriately. There have been a number of occasions when Gracie has hit another child and run away with their toy and I’ve had to step in to reprimand her – I just wish she would get it already as its getting a little old now!
So now that we know why play is so important, what can you do to help your baby play and develop these skills? Well, the good news is that all you need to do is provide a stimulating, loving environment.
When it comes to newborns, it’s hard to think of them playing as they are still very passive, taking in the world around them. You are the one actively playing with your baby when you sing to them, cuddle them and do all of the “mundane” routine things like bathing, feeding and changing nappies. This in itself is plenty of stimulation for a newborn and is really important for your bonding with your baby. So, from very early on, you are your baby’s best playmate.
It’s important to provide a variety of toys for your baby to exploreAs your baby grows and develops, they become more interested in things and toys around them. So, it’s important to provide a variety of toys for your baby to explore. And I don’t mean expensive toys. At the moment, Gracie’s favourite things is finding matching lids for my tupperware (which comes in quite handy for me!) or screwing tops on empty milk bottles. Variety and quality of experience is more important that quantity and expense.
And lastly, it’s important to provide social interaction. This could be with other family members and cousins or by attending playgroups or parks. Babies and toddlers often enjoy and need social interaction to develop their social skills.
So, here’s what you need to know:
Play is important because it:
- Enables babies to gain mastery of their bodies and movements
- Teaches babies about the world around them and the properties of objects and toys
- Allows children to practice social skills
Here’s what you need to do:
- Be your child’s first playmate
- Provide a variety of toys and experiences
- Expose your child to a variety of social settings
That’s all there is to it. I wish you and your baby many, many happy hours of play!