Setting Up a Play Area
At all times you need to supervise Baby and provide a safe and hygienic play environment both indoors and outdoors. Please read about Play Safety and Being Outdoors in the section Babies' Safety.
Within their play environment, babies don't need an over abundance of stimulation as it 'overloads' their thinking and enjoyment, and has absolutely NO developmental value (discussed in Communicating with Baby → Over-stimulation and Intrusive Interactions). This over-stimulation could be from having too many toys/objects around Baby, too much going on in the background such as the distractions from the flashing screen and sound of the television. Parents' overbearing and intrusive interactions also cause problems for babies' wellbeing. Remember Baby is just beginning to discover the world - even the movement of a shadow is wonderment.
Start playtime simply, slowly and sensitively as Baby takes the lead, with you encouraging his achievements.
- A floor space needs to be comfortable (e.g. carpet and play mat) for Baby and you. When Baby is learning to sit, she needs support around her for protection if she falls back/sideways.
- Changing the position of the play area within the home every few days changes the 'scenery' for Baby. By doing this she gets a different 'view' of her surroundings and is more stimulated than having the play mat in the same place.
- Change the play items/activities every couple of days as this keeps her interested. Eventually Baby will develop her 'likes and dislikes' showing favoritism to particular toys.
- Provide Baby with safe objects/toys that attract her attention with different textures, colours, shapes/appearances, weight, functions and sounds/rattles.
- Mobiles/objects need to be placed within visual range for Baby to focus on (see Development and Learning → Physical Development).
- An over-head gym or mobile with many dangling objects can be 'too much' (over-stimulating) for Baby to concentrate on. One or two objects are enough as a starting point. Changing the overhanging items e.g. every couple of days gives Baby sufficient variety and keeps her stimulated. Securely attach objects for Baby to touch, grab and kick.
- As Baby develops, store toys that aren't being used in a container/basket. This way they will maintain their novelty and Baby is not being over-exposed to them. It also becomes a great source of discovery for when she can crawl to the container to look through, deciding on 'what will I play with today?'.
For Baby, the outdoor environment is filled with amazement and stimulation via the different sounds, smells, sights and textures that she will experience. It can also be a form of relaxation for you both. No matter whether you live in a hot or cold climate, Baby's first outdoor experience can be a walk with you, snuggled up to keep warm or feeling the cool breeze on a balmy day. Outdoors is in itself a playground of pleasure.
Below are suggestions for you to develop outdoor play ideas for Baby during the first year. Of course, these will be gauged by the type of climate that you live in, and your proximity to appropriate outdoor play areas e.g. you may live in an apartment and go to the park. So adjust the suggestions to suit your living situation:
- You and Baby together on a comfortable rug in the shade, talking about what you see, and listening to the different sounds.
- A swing or hammock can be pleasurable as you sit together gently moving forward and backward in the early months. As she develops and is self-supporting, Baby will enjoy 'going solo' on a swing that has a safety seat where she can be harnessed in. As she further develops, and into her preschool years she will want you to push 'higher'. Eventually, Baby will show she is truly independent ... no longer needing to be pushed on the swing. (By the time my boys were preschoolers they loved going higher and higher ... and higher on the swing at the park ... as they yelled 'Push Mum'. Then, they learned how to push themselves ... higher and higher ... with me yelling out 'That's high enough!')
- Mobiles, coloured strips of fabric (anything that is eye-catching) and wind-chimes for sound can be hung in trees or outdoor fixtures.
- Indoor toys can also be brought outdoors for playtime on the rug.
- Noisemakers for Baby to shake and bang can be made from plastic bottles with a few pebbles, gumnuts or whatever you can find. Screw the lid on and when shaken Baby will make a racket - endless fun (as discussed further on in Ideas for Easy-made Toys).
As Baby starts to crawl and becomes more mobile:
- Different ground surfaces are explored and grass becomes a great source of fascination as well as leaves, twigs, stones/pebbles etc so you need to be supervising what goes into the mouth!
- Different sensory experiences can be provided with dirt and sand - dry and wet. It is an opportunity for Baby to explore and eventually learn skills such as digging/scooping/stirring/mixing e.g. digging in dirt and sand with plastic spades/large metal spoons, putting it in a bucket, mixing it with leaves and stirring and with your help, building sand castles, 'decorating' them with pebbles, and knocking them down!
- Play tunnels and large cardboard boxes (also for indoor use) are fun to crawl through, play peek-a-boo, hide-and-seek and chasing games. Then as Baby grows into the toddler years these boxes are turned into 'cars', 'buses', 'boats' or whatever her imagination creates.
- Walking and manoeuvring skills will be practised as Baby holds on and uses pushing and ride-on toys (such as a block trolley).
- Meal time can be had outside - make your own picnic.
Note: In general, children of Western cultures are becoming less and less physically active and as a consequence their health is poorly affected. Importantly, research over many years shows that outdoor play promotes children's desire to physically challenge themselves which is part of developing their confidence and independence. Also outdoor physically active play and exercise tires children out, so they are more ready for sleep ... which lessen the bedtime 'battles' as they get older. But outdoors also allows for them to discover the beauty of nature as they look to the sky and see different colours and shapes in clouds, as they discover the size of an ant compared to a bird, and so on. Children's creativity is also being explored outdoors. Just think of the fun there is in mixing dirt with water to make a 'chocolate cake'! And what about the fact that as they grow these experiences and the enjoyment of outdoor play during childhood become fond memories!