Is it Me or the Toy that’s making my baby smart?
When you have stuff to do and need for baby to go it alone for a little while, it’s time to revive a concept I had declared “obsolete.” It’s parallel play, except the difference is the participants are you and your baby, not two babies playing side by side. One of the great things about parallel play is your child really can learn from toys and play. But don’t forget. Your child can also learn from just looking around the room and watching you. After all, astute observation is a skill that is highly valuable for personal decision-making throughout one’s life. From play dates to the playground and from there to the workplace, there is real meaning in the phrase “watch and learn.”
Here are a few guidelines about baby’s development that might affect your choices for parallel play.
- Toys that challenge baby physically are learning toys. In fact, baby’s intellectual development seems to be on a give and take schedule with physical development. The more baby can do physically, the more they can do intellectually. Much of the first year of life is involved in babies understanding that their limbs work for them, propelling them to get what they want; to reach and touch, crawl, walk, and play. Pat mats, floor gyms, balls that push and return, short stretchy cords that permit baby to pull down a mirror, toys, or teething ring, shakers and kickers are all great learning toys that exercise baby’s muscles.
- Toys with limited features build attention span and contribute to invention. We know from studies of babies that attention span is determined by many factors, including basic temperament. So please don’t get out your stopwatches and ruin baby’s natural experience of playing and thinking. In a world with bells, whistles, and flashing lights that distract us from the “main thing”, we need to provide baby with ways to get engrossed. This means being selective and using toys that encourage repetition and creativity such as stackers, balls in chutes, pop-up toys, toys with built-in magnets, and mirrors or magnifiers.
- Toys with 50 or more features should be reserved for guided play with your active engagement. Some toys have so much going on they are inexplicable. Whatever button you push you get a surprise. I find these toys overwhelming unless you can shut off features and levels so your child can actually discern the logic of the toy. Over time you can activate the layers of additional features.
We cannot draw a direct line from a specific infant toys to a child’s specific outcome in the future. But we do know that the number of toys cannot compare to the impacts of your bond and involvement in selecting what will endure and spark discovery everyday.