Learning through Play with Babies
You may be wondering what play has to do with learning. Can a baby even learn? YES! Children start learning from the moment they are born. It’s not just about learning letters and number. It’s about understanding how things work and how they relate to one another. The point of learning isn’t just to know a piece of information it’s about the learning process that enables us to reach and understand that information. If you consider learning to be a process then you can realize how young children learn from every day experiences. Since play is every child’s natural behavior that’s where children learn the most!
Babies are no different. All over the world babies exhibit the same behavior; they try to touch everything and try to put it in their mouths. In this stage, babies are learning through their senses. They love to touch, feel and taste objects. They turn their heads when they hear a familiar or new sound. Starting around two months, babies love interacting with other people. At this age, play is different than older children’s play and is mainly about back and forth interaction between your baby and you!
What and how is your baby learning?
In the first year everything is new for your baby. This phase is all about exploration. By 9 months, your baby should understand about cause and effect and that objects still exist when she can’t see them which is called object permanence.
- When you move a rattle back and forth for your baby, she follows it with her eyes. This is called tracking. While this may seem simple enough your baby is learning in the process and it’s the first step in building your baby’s visual skills.
- Once you hand your baby the rattle, she imitates you and shakes it herself. Observation and imitation is one of the ways children learn to use new things. Your baby starts learning about cause and effect when she shakes the rattle (cause) and the sound is produced (effect).
- Your baby is also developing her hand-eye coordination skills (which is a skill needed later for drawing, writing and eating) when she sees the rattle and tries to reach for it. When your baby moved the rattle from one hand to the other this helps the connections between her right and left brain as well!
- If you hold two rattles and alternate shaking them while pausing in between, this allows your baby to shift her gaze between one object and the other which helps her attention skills.
- As you and your baby interact in this simple game, she’s learning about conversation as you talk to her and wait for her to answer you with a coo or laugh then respond to her. She’s also setting the foundation for language as she listens to you talk.
- Most of all she’s learning about the object! Without realizing she’s gone through a whole learning process of observing you, imitating and understanding how this rattle works!
What toys can a baby play with?
You can use easy to find objects to play with your baby. In the first three months, babies enjoy toys with high color contrast. Choose a rattle that’s black and white for example. Between 3-6 months, your baby is starting to reach and grab things and is more attracted to bright colors and toys that make sounds when moved. She’ll also start reaching out to grab your hair and clothes. Here are some more toys and how you can use them.
Important to remember to follow your child’s lead during play so that it’s a fun experience for both of you. Once your child starts looking away, pushing or whimpering these are signs that your baby has had enough of that toy and would like something different or maybe it’s time to relax altogether.
- Mirrors are great for tummy-time. Find a baby-friendly mirror and place your baby on the floor in front of it. Your baby will be more eager to mover her neck upwards to look at herself and might even crawl forward! It’s a fun way for your baby to spend time on her tummy!
You can also place the mirror in front of your sitting baby and let her point to herself and watch her own interaction with the toys around her.
- Exploring textures is wonderful for kids to learn. You can start by buying a couple of board books with rough, smooth and soft textures in them. You can also fill an old tissue box with different pieces of fabric and watch as your baby pulls them out one by one and explores them. You can talk about how they feel and their colors as well. Make sure the pieces are big so baby doesn’t eat them.
- Rolling is important for hand-eye coordination and physical development. It’s also fun! Your baby can usually start rolling a ball between 8 – 18 months. You can roll big or small balls with your baby. You can also fill an empty water bottle with colored water, shells or anything interesting for your baby to roll back and forth. Your older baby will probably crawl after it as well while your younger one will communicate with you to roll it back!
- Music is great for all kids. Listening to music has been associated with increased spatial reasoning. You don’t have to still to kids’ music, try music with drums and a catchy tune. You can give your baby a rattle or show him how to clap or bang on an empty box.
- You are your baby’s most important tool in learning! You can provide your baby with all the stimulation and interaction he needs. Talking and singing helps his language, emotion, social and cognitive development. Your face is an endless screen of expressions that teaches him how social interaction works. Your actions are a perfect model to how baby should act and behave. Most of all you know your baby more than anyone and can give him what he needs at the right time
Always make sure the toys you use are baby safe. Offer your baby only a few toys at a time and rotate a few items every few weeks to keep your baby interested. I hope this article has given you an idea on how and what your baby learns in her first year.
Why is personal interaction with babies important?
Studies on children in institutional care who were getting all the necessary basic care such as feeding, cleaning and sleep but were not getting any social interaction from their caregivers showed that these children were more delayed in their development than other children who were in a family context and received attentive care. Children experience delays in language, cognitive abilities and even growth. These studies showed us just how important social interaction is to a person’s development from a very young age!
Jailan Heidar is an Egyptian parent educator currently living in The Netherlands. She has a MSc. in Child and Family Studies from Leiden University. She specializes in providing parenting support to parents of children from 0-5 years through her website EarlyYearsParenting.