As parents, we get so much feedback about what we can do to enhance our baby’s development. Sometimes, it can be difficult to remember one of the best parts—playing together! In The CuddleBright Parenting Guide, we learn about the many benefits of play to early child development, the parent-child relationship, and lifelong thriving. But, research has found that children are playing less and less these days, and there is no replacement for relationships—even during these earliest years. One key culprit is the alluring draw of technology and screentime, which is not a replacement for quality time with you.
A Prescription for Play
Did you know that play is so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pediatricians prescribe play in early childhood?
Play Ideas During Daily Routines
It can be awkward to play as an adult, though, and sometimes difficult to come up with ways to connect with your little one in play. Here are some ideas for how you can integrate play into your daily routines throughout the day.
Young children really enjoy when you follow their lead and join in their play. Observe what your child is drawn to, and then join in by taking a turn, commenting on what you see them doing, or adding in a new idea. Maybe they love the colorful shape sorter. Take a turn putting the pieces in! Then, sneak one behind your back and have it magically reappear. Show your excitement in the small, tender moments by describing what is happening (“Here comes the blue one!” “Oh no! It can’t fit there!”). Hearing your voice makes play more engaging, plus it models the power of communication, enriching your little one’s language development, too.
We don’t need elaborate toys to make play fun! Next bath time, you might watch for what your child enjoys about the water. Does he splash his hands up and down? Does he pour water from cups? Does he reach for your hands or face? Or, maybe he loves pretend and make-believe. Remember, find the anchor in what he chooses on his own—then join in and expand! Take turns splashing, exclaim, “you got me!” after a big splash, or, “Ah! My face is wet!” after he pats you on the cheek with dripping hands. If he loves pouring things in and out, bring different size and color cups into the bath and take turns pouring. If you are bathing in baby tubs, you might pour a little bit of water on his tummy while pausing for a moment—waiting for that giggle or reach before starting back again. For the pretend play fan, try building a game of ‘hair salon’ where your child chooses whether he wants purple or blue hair today. Every child is different—and what is fun today might not be the next day. Just like we want to encourage our children to experiment, try out different activities until you find something you both enjoy!
Think about those favorite songs you sing to your baby. Not only are these a great way to establish those routines and rituals for the two of you, but you can also use it for playtime! Add animated actions, like clapping or tapping her nose on a favorite part. Or, try freezing at favorite moments in the song with a ‘What is going to happen next’ expression. Then, sing the next line after a shared moment of anticipation. As your child gets a little bit older, you can throw in a silly ‘wrong word’ here and there—watch them laugh and join in with a reciprocal “oops” on the next verse! Whatever you do, pick a familiar song your toddler enjoys, remember that repetition is your friend, and get animated (this can include varying the tone of your voice, as well as using big facial expressions and body movements). You can even try this activity with songs from CuddleBright here!
Wake up from a nap or nighttime is a great time for a good old-fashioned game of peek-a-boo. Watch Dada disappear behind the crib wall and pop up again! Now it’s baby’s turn! After a couple rounds of taking turns with parent and baby, you might even try having baby’s favorite stuffed animal or CuddleBright lovie play peek-a-boo behind the crib and back! Or, perhaps your baby is in the mood for some tickles—“Uh oh! Here comes the tickle bug! I’m going to get you!” These games might last just a couple brief minutes before you reunite in a big bear hug.
One of the best things about play is that there aren’t really rules! As long as it is engaging and enjoyable—it can be play! For some families, a favorite time to play is during mealtime. Have you ever noticed how your baby laughs when the spoon falls off the table—and then seems to want to do it again and again after you pick it up? Babies learn and thrive on repetition, and you can use it to make a game. Choose something you are OK with rolling off the highchair—and do it again and again while narrating what is happening—“Fall down!” “Here it is!” After a few rounds, try balancing that object on your head—“Ah ah ah-choo!” as it falls to the floor! As you will find, we often don’t need fancy or formal toys for play. Young children find joy in the everyday, and we can join into that fun, too!
Listen to Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek elaborate on the different kinds of play you can explore with your baby or toddler, and the important reasons why they matter. Remember, this article shares just a few examples of play. Have fun making it your own—a special shared experience for just you and your loved ones—let’s go have fun!