Some tips on encouraging self-play with a young baby?
The earliest years are less about “activities” and all about exploring! Explore their bodies and world around them: young babies gradually become more and more aware of their own bodies (and world around them) - that they have arms, fingers, legs and toes….and that they can move them! In the earlier months, try and have less stimulation and “things” (i.e. toys) and let them have more opportunity to explore their own bodies, the world around them.
Pop bubs outside on a play mat or by a window so they can see the rustling leaves, clouds, birds (basically nature’s “baby mobile”).
Play nursery rhymes like “head, shoulders, knees and toes” to help encourage their body awareness - soon bubs will discover those fingers and grabbing toes (and trying to suck on them) will be a favourite game.
Model and engage: “modelling” is basically leading the play! If you have animal figurines then stomp them around and act out the sounds; if you are playing with blocks, build a tall tower.
By first watching you, they will begin to play by mimicking you play side by side, then go on to mimic your play independently, and eventually begin to explore creatively as their awareness of the world also increases.
Developmentally appropriate toys
make sure toys are developmentally appropriate and target your child’s cognitive and physical stages of development. Depending on their age they will likely be honing on developing a certain skill and engaging in repetitive behaviour (for example - if they are becoming aware of cause and effect, they probably love dropping things.
You can place bubs in a baby seat that is low to the ground and let them experiment with dropping and grasping their favourite toys). *Tip: Try and invest more in open-ended toys vs. toys they will quickly outgrow.
Open ended toys are things that can be played with in countless different ways and across all ages. Some open ended toys that young babies can enjoy are large blocks and balls, stackers, play silks, animal figurines, peg dolls and instruments. *Home truth: babies and young children love everyday household items.
Their favourite “toys” will often end up being wooden spoons, hairbrushes, pots and pans, remote controls, empty bottles, ribbons…cardboard boxes. When bubs is old enough to sit up, give them a few pots and kitchen utensils and sit back with cuppa while you enjoy some serious baby jams.
How to play as a family – with different age groups at home
First off….unplug and connect. Put the phones away and be present with each other. If you are going to be using a phone, make sure it is a family affair where everyone is getting creative on the same project (and same device) - e.g. creating a funny video or silly photos together.
Be respectful of everyone and acknowledge the big feelings. If you are a family with different age groups, chances are not everyone is going to have the same interests or be in the mood for the same thing. Give everyone an opportunity to express what they’d like to do, and see if everyone can agree.
Sometimes it comes down to flipping a coin. Make sure you reassure those disheartened that next time the family will get to do the alternative activity - be positive and encourage everyone to join in and have a go.
Share your interests and hobbies! If the biggest kids in the house are passionate about something, chances are their little people are going to be pretty excited about it too. Host a family dance party, head into the kitchen and bake a feast, whip out the knitting needles and yarn, work on a family DIY together like building a mud kitchen or go-cart.
Try a change of scenery. Put on your hiking boots and go for a stroll around the block (maybe adding in a family challenge like a game of Spotto “First person to spot a parrot gets 10 points” or Follow the Leader) Open ended toys like magnetic tiles, large blocks and Lego have the potential to engage everyone because there is no right or wrong way to play, and everyone can participate based on their interests/ability. You can also use these resources to create fun family challenges like building a tower to the roof, creating ball runs, etc.
- Tips to engage and motivate older children when they can’t be with other kids Socialisation is so important for older children, it helps them navigate their own sense of self-identity and explore common interests. So instead of trying to distract them from not being able to hang out with their friends, get creative with finding ways your children can still socialise both on and offline. Write letters or email (pen pals!).
- Use FaceTime/Skype/Zoom to host shared play experiences like craft activities, building challenges, dance offs, etc (or if they can’t be online, schedule a shared time they can know they are both doing the same activity and take photos to send to each other).
- Create weekly memento boxes/envelopes to send to their bestie - give them a box or envelope to fill with treasures from different experiences throughout the week. They can then schedule a phone chat/FaceTime at the end of the week and have a bit of a reverse “show and tell” with each other. They may not be able to be side by side, but we can still help our children to share in common experiences, feel connected and make memories together with their peers. (You’ll probably find this will have a positive knock on effect with their general mood and ‘tude around the house).
- Fail-safe sensory play tips First and foremost, ask yourself- is the mess going to cause stress? If you are worried about legumes rolling under the couch or water splashing onto the tiles, chances are you will be anxious and possibly short fused which may inhibit the play experience.
In a nutshell - if you are NOT in the mood to clean up the mess, save it for another time… Keep it simple. Try and keep it to only one “messy” sensory base. For example, water and animal figurines - or - kinetic sand and figurines.
If you mix all three, you are likely to end up with more mess, sensory bases that can’t be reused, and potentially a shortened sensory play experience (children may be unsure of new textures or find they get uncomfortable after a certain time if their senses are overwhelmed)
Take it outside!
Mess is easier to clean up, there is more movement for gross motor play AND the outdoors is filled with sensory delights! (Leaves rustling in the wind, birds chirping, an array of colours) Use what is on hand. Pantry staples are easy to access (think oats, legumes, food dye, corn flour).
Check what things are piling up in the recycle bin - boxes, bottles, empty jars, egg cartons all make perfect “tools” for sensory play - for pouring, scouring, mixing, sorting, etc. Don’t underestimate how entertaining water can be - fill up a bucket or tub and throw in some toys like duplo or figurines (a drop of food dye for extra fun) - putting these toys in a new context makes them super exciting!
AND my favourite go-to: a bubble bath in the middle of the day! Mix it up. (Have a repertoire of sensory play ideas you can rotate through that are easy to set up - e.g. water play, pantry staples, baking, dancing, bubbles)
Also, keep in mind - everyday play and life is filled with sensory play experiences: meal times, park walks, baking, gardening, bath time…just to name a few.