It is widely recognised that play is essential for a developing child. Play helps children to develop the skills they will need to take them through life. All children develop at different rates so the ages and stages of development given here act as a general guide. You shouldn't worry unduly if your child develops later at a particular skill; they often develop faster at something else.
When buying any toys for the under 3s always ensure you have checked the safety advice on the packaging. At this age children put things in their mouths and toys that have small parts are dangerous as they can cause choking. Avoid toys with a warning "not suitable for 0-36 months"
Babies - 0-9 months
The First 3 Months
When a child is born her first playmate is her parent. From the first interactions of squeezing fingers, kicking feet and trying to make eye contact with mum and dad a baby is developing the coordination needed to start exploring the world.
She can lift and turn her head when lying on her back and will, over the first three months, develop the ability to lift her head when lying on her stomach. Your baby will be able to make basic distinctions in senses such as vision, hearing, smell, taste and touch. She will also be able to recognise colour and sound differences and will be visually and orally exploring the world around her.
Toys And Play
At this age you are your child's best playmate. Let her develop recognition of facial expressions; frowns and smiles, surprise and laughter. A baby cannot really "play" with toys, but she will be able to grip your fingers or toys that are placed in her hand and there are cot and pram toys available that will help her to focus on sights, colours and sounds and will build up her attention and satisfy her naturally curious nature about the new world she has joined. Visually attractive toys - toys with contrasting colours and different shapes - will encourage play which will encourage development, especially focusing her eyes on moving objects. Strong contrasting colours, such as black and white, will hold babies' interests for longer, but pastel colours are more calming and therefore more suitable for teddies and night times.
Babies explore their world orally at this stage, and that means putting anything they find into their mouths! Be careful of small objects being left around, especially if you have older children that have toys with small parts.
What type of play?
- Soft toys
- Playing peek-a-boo
- Change your expressions - smile, frown, laugh, surprise
- Make different sounds and try to move around so baby's vision follows you (don't be too loud as this can startle your child or in extreme cases cause damage to sensitive ears)
- Wear contrasting coloured clothes so that your movement keeps them entertained
- Make sock puppets - visually appealing and will help encourage language
* using sound and colours to help focusing the eye
Between three and six months your baby will begin to gain control of head and arm movements which will enable him to control actions such as grasping, rolling, supporting his upper body, reaching and swiping at moving objects. He will begin to locate sounds and will begin to imitate some of the sounds he hears. He will also start to co-ordinate hand and eye movements and will recognise people and objects at a distance and will be able to follow moving objects. Importantly your baby will become more social, displaying a smile, using more expressions and communicating with his face and body. Being more social will lead to an enjoyment of playing with others.
He will become more able to kick and grab for things. Your baby will put almost anything he can in his mouth at this age, in fact he will use his lips and tongue to explore shape and texture and this will actually encourage development. This is fine as long as you have ensured that a toy is appropriate for this age group (there are no small parts that could be swallowed).
Toys and Play
Building block toys are great for all young children. The hand-eye coordination and dexterity it takes to play with these toys develop skills that are themselves the building blocks of life. Just make sure that the blocks you buy are appropriate for the age of the child. Buy big blocks when children are young so they don't get swallowed and are bulky for uncoordinated fingers to grasp. As your child gets older and more dexterous the blocks can get smaller and designs more complicated (always be aware of the age warnings on packaging).
As they become more aware of their environment they will enjoy things that they will be able to touch and interact with. Baby gyms, which have objects dangling down, are perfect for their flailing limbs, as the various noises, and textures of the objects they collide with will be entertaining. This will aid concentration and a basic understanding of cause and effect. Baby gyms also encourage the movement of arms and legs and strengthen backs and necks in preparation for starting to crawl.
Music is also very important at this stage of a baby's life as it can lay the foundations of language development. Anything with a rhythm will be welcomed, with upbeat music used to stimulate the baby, and softer music used to calm and soothe the child.
What types of play?
- Anything noisy*
- Toys with lights and music*
- Toys that fix to prams
- Activity centres
- Sing nursery rhymes - helps language development
- Reading stories - the sound of your voice will be soothing
- Hand clapping - anything with a beat
- Play beak-a-boo - because it is fun!
* All of these help hold the child's attention and develop co - ordination
Up to 9 months of age your baby will continue to explore objects with her hands and mouth. She will develop more understanding of distance as her vision improves. She will start to sit unsupported and stretch for things that are out of her reach. She will begin to support her weight on her legs and will begin to crawl. Your child will develop more social understanding; responding to her own name, recognising the word "no", and grasping emotions by the tone of voice. She will start to respond with sounds and the variety of sounds will increase to express her own emotions as she begins to communicate with you.
Toys and Play
Helping babies to develop muscles to aid sitting up and crawling is important at this time. This can be within a play gym that allows a baby to sit up, or indoor strollers or bouncers that help build up their leg muscles! They will also be teething, so textured toys, that are designed to go in the mouth, can be both soothing and enjoyable for your baby.
Children are too young to play together at this age but you cannot start socialising them too early as social development is a key indicator of future success. Try to get together with other carers and help the children to interact with each other. Encourage turn taking, sharing and cooperation with playmates using musical instruments, balls, dolls and teddies. Reading and talking aloud to your child will help them to start building the foundations of speech and language.
What type of play?
- Bouncing up and down over your foot - a gentle "horse ride" to build leg strength
- Bouncers and strollers
- Puppets - interaction with adults which helps language development and socialisation
- Musical instruments - promotes socialisation and working together
- Activity centres - keeps their attention whilst learning cause & effect
- Bath toys - helps make bath time more enjoyable
- Shape sorters - they can learn about shapes and connections
- Sing nursery rhymes*
- Reading stories*
- Play dates and baby classes - fun for parents and the kids
* encourages language development
Remember: All children develop at different rates so the ages and stages of development given here act as a general guide. You shouldn't worry unduly if your child develops later at a particular skill; they often develop faster at something else. If you do have worries you should seek expert medical advice.