at home ideas

HOW TO BE A GREAT PLAY PARTNER

Babies are naturally curious, driven and determined. If you attempt to re-direct their focused energy, they will often ignore your ideas. There are times, however, when help or suggestions from a parent will result in more meaningful learning for the infant.

What follows are some general tips on playing with your baby along with some specific ways in which you can partner with her to enrich her learning experience.

encourage the exploration

Let your baby take the lead. See where he goes, what interests him. Encourage him to explore—sometimes with words, sometimes with gestures, and sometimes simply by leaving him alone without interruption.

enrich and extend the experience

Babies want a challenge—they spend all of their waking time trying to accomplish just about everything! As adults, we want them to try new things and to try and try again, if necessary. We want them to be resourceful, independent and creative thinkers. We want them to succeed. And we want to broaden their experiences.

However, it’s important that we take things one step at a time. Acquiring skills and knowledge is a process. New ideas build upon existing ones. For example, presenting a symbol system as complex as the alphabet to a pre-verbal child or one with emerging verbal skills will do little to encourage his language abilities. Simply speaking with your child, babbling back, describing his behavior, intent or the world around him as well as reading books and talking about what you see will more effectively lay the foundation for language development.

lead from the sidelines

As tempting as it might be to offer a baby more and more stimuli as they play, and make sure that they “do everything” there is to do, and see everything there is to see, understand that it is frequently better to simply sit back and observe your baby’s behaviors. Let the baby go for it. Celebrate curiosity and perseverance. Be careful not to re-direct your baby’s focus when she is engaged in an activity, however. Calling attention to the color of a nesting box, for example, when the child is attempting to make it fit into another one, most likely, will be a distraction. Look for natural places to introduce a related idea. When the moment seems right, introduce a new material or action into the baby’s play pattern. In this case, you might slide a bigger box closer to your baby to extend the routine of “putting things in.” Stick with the baby’s program.

Remember, if you’re always out in front, chances are that you’ll block the baby’s view...

and try some of these techniques:

  • Mirroring
    Demonstrate that you are paying attention by imitating your baby’s actions. By doing what she is doing you are connecting to her play in a simple but fundamental way. For example, roll balls across the floor together or help her fill a container with blocks. Describe both what both you and she are doing.
  • Focusing
    Point out important aspects of a problem or encourage her to stick with the task in the face of frustration. You can do this by calling attention to different approaches that work and those that don’t. For example, if your child is trying to stack nesting cubes but is having difficulty, encourage your child by reminding her that the biggest cube goes on the bottom. Focus your child’s attention on the problem, balance in this case, and talk about it. You might explain how the tower is “tippy” and that the big cube on the bottom helps it “balance” and keep from falling.
  • Scaffolding
    Reduce the number of steps or make it easier to achieve her goal. Sometimes your child may become stuck in trying to make something happen and needs to have the situation simplified in order to take her play or learning to the next level. For example, if your child is doing a puzzle and having difficulty finding where the pieces go or how they fit, you might help her by gently showing her where the piece goes or by showing her how to turn and twist the piece to manipulate it to fit in the correct space. Over time, as both memory and motor skills develop, the scaffolding will no longer be necessary and you won’t have to help her place the pieces.
  • Modeling
    Demonstrate new ways the task can be done. It will often take lots of modeling and practicing before a new skill is learned, but this can be a powerful way to partner with your child and help him learn. It is very natural for children to imitate and learn by modeling what they see and hear. Exaggerate your actions at first. Do things slowly. Narrate your actions to help your child learn. Use a funny voice if you like. Repeat the action and the description of it several times before asking your child to try. For example, you might show your child how to manipulate a puzzle piece by holding it up and saying “see how I turn the square puzzle piece. I am turning it with my hand. I’m twisting it. Twist. Twist. Twist. Like this. See? Here. You try ?”.
  • Reframing
    Make connections between things she does know and things she does not, creating a new way of thinking about a situation. This powerful teaching tool helps your baby to build upon her prior skills and understanding about a situation. For example, when your child is trying to spoon water into a bucket, but spills more than goes in, you might make a connection between that and the way in which she eats her yogurt. You might explain and show her how it is helpful to hold the scoop or cup level as it makes its way to the bucket, just as she holds her spoon level as she brings yogurt to her mouth. You might even suggest that she pretend that the water is yogurt and that she is “giving the bucket a drink.”