Don’t wait until they’re toddling – you can support your infants’ fledgling physical skills today, and do it for free, says Philippa Fraser…
The rapid pace of child development in the early years of life is astonishing. Within just a few years an infant becomes a schoolboy or girl, with the ability to move in experimental ways, speak in sentences, use simple tools and understand the feelings of others.
How quickly children can gain gross, then fine, motor skills is just one area of learning that is awesome to behold. From lifting their heads to the first tentative steps, every novel action is lovingly appreciated and recorded by both parents and practitioners.
Let’s not, however, become complacent and just capture these golden moments; let’s be more proactive in encouraging them.
Despite first appearances, a baby shouldn’t be viewed as a helpless recipient of their carers’ assistance. In most cases, they quickly learn the benefits of eye contact, crying, smiling and snuggling as ways of keeping their carer close by.
With attentive enough parenting, the infant’s behaviours are responded to with care and comfort. If so, this behaviour is positively reinforced; the baby not only survives, but also thrives, as a result.
As the months go by, babies become increasingly adept at controlling their physical environment – and not just the people within it! During this time, their carers can also decide to take control and challenge them to move further and with increasing confidence.
With the scourge of childhood obesity threatening the health and wellbeing of school-age children, it’s clear that matters of early years diet, as well as levels of activity, must be addressed.
Although a focus on exercise is more common in the context of older children, I would argue that babies, too, benefit from increasingly challenging physical activity.
You needn’t wait until a child is toddling from one place to another to introduce him or her to novel and fun toys and games. When I mention ‘toys and games’, I’m not necessarily referring to expensive toys with push buttons, lights and sounds – enticing though they are.
I’m rather suggesting the use of items that strengthen the adult-child bond, especially those that can be home-made of low-budget materials.
You can do so by, for example, recycling the packaging of food bought from supermarkets; I keep a selection of cereal boxes, wrapping paper rolls and the like in a corner of my room for just this purpose.
While working within the baby room of one nursery, I enjoyed creating free ‘toys’ from little more than domestic recycled items.
One successful example was created by threading colourful ribbon through a small box; I used this to play turn-taking ‘tug-of-war’ games with one child who could sit up but not yet crawl.
For mobile children, vehicles can be fashioned out of cardboard alone; cardboard rolls with cut-out circles slotted onto each end may encourage vigorous crawling, or increased cruising from one piece of supportive furniture to another (in order to retrieve the home-made ‘car’).
If you have the money for resources, buying large and unbreakable objects can complement this use of self-made forms of entertainment.
I have used magnets placed behind thin sheets of card, drawing an attracted item in different directions on the other side; babies respond to such by reaching and grasping for the apparently self-moving pieces of metal.
Further advantages of such resources are the potential to change their use (such as speed and range of movement) according to each child’s growth.
So, the next time you are tempted by an overpriced piece of plastic, think instead of what is already lying around unused: cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, etc.
Consider whether these might be safely pushed, pulled, squeezed or thrown, by your babies. And if you do choose to spend, ensure that you use the toys to play with the children.
They should not be intended solely as a means of distracting them as you watch on.
To adults, the games played with a baby may seem unremarkable or repetitive. To the child, however, the same may provoke looks of wonder, bafflement or giggles.
He or she will benefit from the physical challenge and social interaction, and you will end up having just as much fun at a fraction of the cost.
Philippa Fraser is an Early Years Teacher.