Becoming a parent for the first time can be a huge transition, from only having your own wants and needs to meet to having a baby dependent on you for everything. There are so many new things to get your head around such as feeding. changing and sleeping. Throw in household chores like laundry and dishes, and playing with your baby can often end up at the bottom of the to-do list.
But play is super important for children’s development. Read on to find out why you should make time for play and how you can include play in your daily schedule.
Play boosts brain development
“Did you know that the most important interaction that you can have with your child is through play?” asks Harvard University Professor Jack Shoncoff in a Mini Parenting Masterclass video sponsored by UNICEF.
Play experiences help to build connections in your baby’s brain. The back and forth interactions of play are also known as serve and return. Many recent studies using brain imaging and other innovative technologies have highlighted the impact of responsive and attentive exchanges on both brain function and structure.
Don’t stress if this all sounds a bit serious. Play-based interactions often occur naturally during baby’s everyday routines like feeding or change times. For example your baby makes a sound and you make one in return. Your baby points to an object and you tell them what it is. You can also initiate play through games such as the following:
Place a cloth over your head and say “Where’s Mummy/Daddy?” Take it off and smile as you say “Peekaboo, here I am”. Try placing the cloth over your baby’s head and taking it off . Singing “Peekaboo” is fun too, as per the video below (taken from my program of music activities for babies). Continue the game for as long as it illicits smiles and giggles.
Take your baby’s hand gently palm up and place it in your hand. With your other hand pat baby’s palm gently and look into their eyes as you say the following rhyme:
Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can
Pat it and prick it, and mark it with B, (prick baby’s hand with one finger and trace the letter B on their palm)
Put it in the oven for Baby and me.
A positive relationship
Play also fosters a strong bond between you and your baby. It helps build your child’s confidence to explore and learn and contributes to healthy emotional development.
Research demonstrates that secure attachment can also have an important impact on a child’s ability to:
- delay gratification
- problem solve
- have empathy for others
- put up with the frustration of failure and more patience
- calm down from excitement
Basically, children develop the necessary ability to self regulate when they experience nurturing, stimulating and predictable interactions.
Here are a couple of more fun games you can play with your little one to promote a loving connection:
Roll the Ball
If your baby isn’t sitting up yet you could gently roll a light ball across their tummy. If they are sitting up, put them across from you with your legs open and roll a ball to them. They may not roll it back but you can always show them how by reaching across and batting it back to yourself. You could try singing some ball songs like the following taken from The Bubblebox Music Activities for Babies.
Shake some shakers
Either buy or make some shakers (fill a container with popcorn or rice but ensure that it is well-sealed). Sit down with baby and shake the shakers. Pause and let them have a turn. See if your baby will take turns with you to shake your instruments. Try shaking fast and slow, softer and louder. Watch the following video for a song you can sing too.
So go ahead and find some time every day to get down on your hands and knees, laugh, have some fun and play with your baby.
For more information and tips on playing with your baby, take a few minutes to check out the Mini Masters Parenting Masterclass: Building Babies’ Brains Through Play video:
This post was originally published on January 10th 2013 and and was updated today to include recent research and videos.