Experts agree that babies learn through play. According to the Talaris Institute, a Seattle-based company that designs learning products for busy parents and caregivers, encouraging young children to play often and in a variety of settings can help them learn to interact and cooperate with others, develop stronger peer relationships, and find ways to manage stress. Wait… “manage stress?” What does a baby have to be stressed about?
In the Information Age, there’s so much out there about how to play with your baby, what’s age-appropriate, what toys can stimulate hand-eye coordination, what games improve language skills, what is the etiquette for group play, etc., that a parent could easily find herself giving up and laying on the nursery floor while the baby pulls her hair.
For the first few months of our son’s life, I felt guilt at my seeming inability to play with him effectively. Moreover, he did not seem to even want to play, unless “play” meant, in baby language, “cry and drink milk.” Apart from nursery rhymes, high-resolution board books, and fuzzy animals — none of which met with anything like approval — there did not seem to be anything to do with him. Sounds like fun, right?
Perturbed and unwilling to leave my now-three-month-old to simply cool his tiny heels in a swing or an exersaucer all day, I enrolled us in Make the Connection, a ten-week program that is supposed to “help parents interact with their babies in ways that promote secure attachment, communication and brain development” and that “combines hands-on activities, parent reflection and discussion as well as personalized video feedback.”
This is not your grandma’s peek-a-boo.
Playing around by Poi Apeles
What emerged from the weekly program was that the baby loved songs but was not interested in other babies; and being younger than most of the others, he was not able to sit up, crawl, or explore, so the class was a long one for him. If you have a baby who is adverse to soothers, doesn’t like lying on his back or tummy, and is “very expressive” (as our group leader politely stated), this might not be the class for you. However, it did get us out of the house one more afternoon per week and taught me a wealth of baby songs that have captured my son’s heart — and made me the envy of all my friends, whose babies I entertain with heartfelt renditions of “Zoom, Zoom.”
The search for things to do with a baby who can’t yet crawl, whose invented purpose for every toy is to gum it to death, and who is far more interested in the remote than the latest Fisher Price doo-dad, continues. Here are some things that have made for smiles and fun times in our household and on our adventures in Toronto.
A list of low-tech, fun games to play around the house and in everyday activities. (Think nose-rubbing in the bath and clapping games that teach babies about all their cute little parts!)
Download a free songbook with lyrics to old classics and new favourites, complete with descriptions of the accompanying movements and melodies. These songs can be used anywhere to produce calm and rapt attention in your baby!
Think your baby is too small to enjoy the park except by viewing it from his stroller? Think again. The light playing through the leaves can mesmerize a baby, who will also enjoy a kick in the grass (check piles of leaves before placing your little one on top — you’re in the city, after all). Most parks and parkettes, such as the east end’s Withrow Park, have bucket swings that are suitable for a baby who’s sitting unassisted.
Located all over the city, the esoteric knowledge of these centres is often passed from parent to parent, whispering conspiratorially to each other in parks. Open usually in the mornings and often run by volunteer parents, the centres offer circle time, snacks, and lots of toys for free play. Look for signs outside churches, schools, and community centres. Not a morning person? The Family Resource Centre lets you stay ’til 3:00.
A place where parents, caregivers, and children 0-6 go for programming like sing-alongs, field trips to various places in the city, learning, snacks, and structured and free play. They have additional information and resources for parents as well.
Story time by Emily Walker
For a small fee (in the case of Leslieville’s ultra-hip lil’ bean n’ green café, $4 for an all-day pass) you can take the bambino to a place where you can relax and connect with other parents, sip a latte, and feed Baby Gourmet to your peanut before he plays with you, staff, and other children in a safe, extremely baby-friendly play area.
The Toronto Public Library has fun reading and story-telling programming for babies ten months and older, so you can let someone else inspire your baby while you enjoy cuddling him on your lap.
With Toys R Us Express stores mushrooming throughout the city and specialty retailers like Treasure Island Toys putting out full interactive toy displays, a visit to the toy store can be tons of fun. Plus, there’s less of a chance of wasting money on toys your baby doesn’t actually like since you can gauge her reactions in-store.
Get the baby used to the water and enjoy some splish-splash time by taking her for some drop-in preschool swim time. The water is usually kept at a decent 82 degrees for the little ones.
When it’s time for a break, activity seats like this Precious Planet vibrating chair help babies entertain themselves with things like snow globes, lights, and animals that bob tantalizingly out of reach.
Remember to relax, follow the baby’s cues, and stop while it’s still fun. You may not get it; I still don’t — my baby’s likes and dislikes are still baffling to me, but I know that just being there as a playmate is building the bond that will last long after the stacking rings and the jolly jumpers have been packed away.