Using toys for optimal stimulation is a smart and practical way to encourage important milestones in your little one. In this article, OT and play-to-learn advocate, Meg Faure, shares ideas for toys and props you can use to optimise your little one’s development.
Just a word of caution that often props are not safe for the baby to use on their own as they are bits and bobs you find around the house. Always put the box away out of reach when you have finished singing together.
Language development through songs
Create a ‘song box’, full of simple props that go well with certain songs. Having a prop to accompany a song helps your baby learn anticipation as they begin to expect certain songs with certain objects or for something to happen in a song. Most props are things one can find around the house:
- Baa Baa Black sheep – A wad of cotton wool that you rub on your baby’s skin whilst singing the song.
- Twinkle Twinkle little star – Cocktail sticks with the tinsel bits on the end that you wave or twist close to your baby’s face.
- I hear thunder – A water spray bottle – spray lightly over the baby when you sing pita pata rain drops
- Row, row, row the boat – A plastic bath toy boat that your baby holds or you put between you when doing the song.
- Silas the snake – A rubbery snake that is great to chew on
Laying out your baby’s play space does not require a large investment in expensive toys. You can also make use of many objects you find:
- An empty box is always a popular item. Collect a few boxes of different sizes – cereal boxes, egg boxes, gift boxes, boxes that cosmetics come in and use those for your baby to explore size and shape, as well as a simple construction game.
- Use empty tins to put dry pasta or rice in to make a shaker.
- Half fill an empty plastic cold drinks bottle with water and put some sparkly stars or glitter inside, or put some food colouring in the water to make bottles of different colours.
- Always look at packaging to see if there is an opportunity for learning with it – e.g., corrugated card or bubble wrap is fantastic for fine motor and tactile development, any paper, foil or plastic that crinkles, rustles, scrunches is great for babies (but ensure safety with plastic please).
- Find bits of differently textured materials (corduroy, fur, sequins, wool, etc.) from old clothes you are planning to throw out anyway and glue or sew the materials on to an old sheet. This makes a wonderful texture mat. If you go to material shops they will often give you offcuts either for free or at a small price.
Keep a box in the cupboard with a selection of your baby’s toys. Change and rotate your toys about once a week. This gives baby time to explore and learn what to do with each object and also gives them a regular change of activity. If you notice your baby taking a particular liking to an object you can leave it out for longer, and if they develop an attachment to a certain toy then make sure it is always available to them.
Supervise your baby’s play
Lastly, your baby’s play should be well supervised for 2 reasons: Ensuring your baby’s safety is of utmost importance – Babies explore with their mouths at first, so most things end up in their mouths. This creates a choking risk and is something you need to be vigilant about.
Also, interacting with your baby helps to extend the learning. Even as your baby explores the objects you can be providing vital language and guiding your baby on how to use objects more appropriately. Provide your baby with a running commentary of what is going on, as language development starts from day one.