Play is fundamental to healthy brain and physical development. It provides an emotional outlet for tension and frustration, and it is crucial to the socialisation process. Play allows babies to interact in the world around them, to make sense of it and to learn about their own culture.
Play also lays the foundation for reading, writing, mathematical reasoning, critical thinking, language, and scientific discovery. In fact, play is so important that it has been globally recognised to be a fundamental human right.
Play is universal. Even though the play varies from culture to culture, all babies play. It is how they learn about the world, themselves, and other people. Play is an essential part of growing up.
Play can be quiet or noisy, energetic, or passive, social, or non-social, relaxed, or serious, imaginative, or purposeful. Play may or may not require toys, equipment, or an end product.
The benefits of play
Play has so many benefits that it is impossible to fully list them all. However, the following may serve as a starting point. Play enables babies to:
⭐ Explore their bodies
⭐ Gain muscle strength
⭐ Control and coordinate movements
⭐ Develop fine motor skills
⭐ Refine hand-eye coordination
⭐ Experiment and make discoveries
⭐ Make choices
⭐ Make decisions
⭐ Solve problems
⭐ Improve memory and concentration
⭐ Expand intelligence
⭐ Develop language
⭐ Stimulate imagination
⭐ Develop confidence and self-esteem
⭐ Learn important new skills
⭐ Build relationships with other people
⭐ Develop the senses
Babies learn best when they can experience things that they can see, hear, feel, touch, smell, and taste. It is how they gain knowledge of themselves and learn about the world.
The simplest form of play
The best opportunities for play often occur during routine activities such as feeding, nappy changing, dressing, having a bath or preparing for bedtime. The simplest form of play involves plenty of eye contact, facial expressions, vocalisations, smiles, and words of encouragement.
When parents play with babies, they build enduring relationships, which last a lifetime. Babies also know that they are loved and that they are fun to be around.
Toys are usually the main objects that babies play with because they have the advantage of being safe and specially adapted to their age and abilities. When contemplating a purchase, parents might like to consider the following questions:
⭐ Is it age appropriate?
⭐ Is it appropriate for the baby’s stage of development?
⭐ Will it capture the baby’s interest?
⭐ Will it stimulate the baby’s senses?
⭐ Will it encourage tummy time?
⭐ Will it develop hand-eye co-ordination?
⭐ Will it stimulate language development?
⭐ Will it encourage movement and exploration?
⭐ Is it sturdy?
⭐ Is it washable?
⭐ Does it have fun appeal?
⭐ Is it safe?
Any object given to the baby must be safe, carefully supervised and removed from the cot during daytime naps and at bedtime.
By Dr Lin Day (founder of Baby Sensory, Hello Baby, and Toddler Sense)