How To Engage Your Baby During Playtime 👩‍👧‍👦 ⚽️

Parents and babies are spending more of their time together at home now than ever. What challenges does this present to parents of new babies?

The early days of parenting can feel incredibly isolating. Due to COVID-19, parents now have less freedom to socialize. Even quick outings to a nearby coffee shop or running errands to the grocery store may feel too risky with a baby in tow. Spending more time at home makes our days feel repetitive, which can lead to parental burnout. During challenging moments, we encourage families to prioritize play; shared play experiences help parents reduce stress and enhance family connection. 

The Baby Play Basics class from Rose & Rex is all about facilitating meaningful play for babies. What was the inspiration behind the class?

Our goal is to empower parents to take the lead in creating meaningful, at-home learning experiences for their babies as they grow and develop. Many new parents wonder, ‘What should I be doing with my baby all day?” Others are overwhelmed by everything they “should” be doing to support their babies’ development and ask, “Where do I even begin?” We believe that play is the answer to both of these questions. Baby Play Basics is our way of offering families the same play-based education and support they would have received in our in-person classes. 

How does play help encourage different areas of a baby’s development?

Throughout your baby’s first year, he or she will engage in several different types of play: unoccupied play, fine motor play, gross motor play, and sensory play. For example, when you cover a rubber duck with a washcloth and ask your baby, “Where did your duck go?”, you’re supporting cognitive development. You’ve introduced the concept of object permanence—the idea that an object continues to exist, even when you can’t see it. Emphasizing directional vocabulary supports language development. “Is the duck behind your back?” “Oh, it’s under the washcloth!” You can strategically place the duck to encourage reaching, which supports physical development, too!

How does play help babies and parents connect?

When we’re engaged in play, we’re more likely to touch our babies, make eye contact, and experiment with a variety of facial expressions and tone of voice. These are all crucial elements of emotional development. Playful interactions reduce parental stress, while teaching babies how to communicate with others. 

Play can also help shift the energy of a tough moment (or entire day)! My children are no longer babies, but we continue to prioritize play in our home. We wrap up our toughest days by gathering in the playroom for a family dance party! Laughing together and simply enjoying one another’s company is a meaningful way to reconnect.

Why is music so important for babies as they develop?

Singing to your baby, and eventually with your baby, is a powerful and playful way to connect. Your bodies are close, you’re making eye contact, and you’re truly focused on one another. 

Songs also support language development. Repetition is the key to building new language skills; when your baby hears the same song over and over again, he or she is acquiring new vocabulary. Body awareness is enhanced by singing words like “up” and “down” and “around.” Active musical experiences give your baby a real sense of his or her body in space. 

Emotionally, there is safety and comfort in familiar songs. If you’re wondering how to best support your baby in early separation experiences, such as introducing a new caregiver, leave your baby with two things: your baby’s favorite, most familiar toy and your baby’s favorite, most familiar song. If your baby responds to a particular song, teach this song to other important people in your baby’s life (extended family members, your baby’s caregiver, etc.). Musical experiences can help your baby feel connected to you, even when you’re apart. 

What are some simple activities that parents can do to engage pre-crawlers at home?

1) Embrace playtime au naturel: Naked playtime allows babies to move freely, while exploring how their bodies relate to the surface beneath them. Body awareness significantly impacts a baby’s gross motor abilities and leads to physical milestones, such as rolling, sitting, and crawling. Try providing your baby with daily opportunities to play on the floor totally naked. If your home feels a bit chilly, head to a steamy post-shower bathroom. A thick towel or play pad is the perfect play space!

2) Make tummy time a splash: Set a shallow dish of water on the floor and place your baby on his or her tummy, facing the water. The dish should be twelve inches in front of your baby, so he or she can actively observe the water play that’s about to begin! Add a bath toy, such as a rubber duck, and allow your baby to observe the duck as it bobs up and down in the water. Experiment with making small splashes and pouring additional water into the dish to raise the water level. 

3) Build a ball ramp: Create a ramp by leaning a flat object against a wall or piece of furniture. Hardcover books, sturdy pillows, and couch cushions work well. Help your baby take a seated position at the bottom of the ramp, either on the floor or your lap. Roll a soft ball down the ramp towards your baby’s feet. Your baby may independently reach for the ball or you can demonstrate bending forward to grasp the ball with two hands. Together, roll the ball back up the ramp and play some more!

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