Have you ever thought of play? Really thought about it? If you are pregnant with your first child, soon it will be one of your biggest topics, that and how many naps or how long they’ve slept thru the night, how much weight they’ve gained between well baby visits, how many new teeth…play will be right up there. And these discussions will mostly occur at the nearest park.
I have learned so much about play thru the experience of being a parent. I certainly remember playing as a young child, who doesn’t? It was the purpose of my day. Even when I started school, I couldn’t wait to get home to go play outside in my neighborhood.
I have no memory of the baby and toddler play, of course. None of us do. In witnessing my daughter and other children play, I have seen first hand how incredibly important and vital it truly is. Play as I define it is really about exploring and testing. And as babies they begin with their body or with objects that we place near them, a thumb or a finger to suck on, or a rattle or squeeze toy to chew. Everything goes in the mouth. Remember that, EVERYTHING goes in the mouth. Of course that means keep any items that should not go in the mouth or could be a choking hazard AWAY from babies and toddlers.
As they crawl they continue to explore and crawl toward things, reaching, grabbing. As walkers that soon run, and fall. It is all a part of it.
I have partaken of two type of parenting classes that have been incredibly helpful and inspiring to me: R.I.E. and Waldorf. Both encourage infants and toddlers, and then children to be outside as much as possible; to use nature as a teacher and to find the rhythm of the seasons. Nature and the change in seasons is a wonderful curriculum base, think of all the seasonal stories that we tell young children. It can be incredibly magical.
In Waldorf, there is the notion of the in-breath and the out-breath. In my mind, it is about getting to know your baby, toddler, and child and seeing how they play inside and outside. How the pace changes with each. As well as how their mood changes.
Consider purchasing toys that allow your child to explore them as opposed to toys that entertain your child. Re-read that sentence because at first run you might think that what I said is quite strange. As adults we have connected the dots between what we used to call “play” and what we now do to relax and unwind which is “be entertained”. A baby, toddler, and young child really don’t need to be entertained, not the way we as adults may. You might misinterpret their desire to interact with you and incorporate you into their play as a demand from them for you to entertain them. Let me suggest that you step back and re-think that. Experiment with your own baby and young child. Provide opportunities for them to invent their play. For the baby and toddler blocks, rattles, BPA free plastic toys or wooden toys that move when you push them or feel good on the gums when you chew on them. Outdoors play with sand or mud boxes and water and pails and buckets that allow for tactile play and building and smashing down. Rope swings in tree, wagons, tricycles, scooters. A walk with a basket and picking up leaves or sticks. I can go on and on. Think of playtime as an exhale, a time to explore with abandon and full imagination. Tell me what you see.
Links for Waldorf toys:
Alisa Donner, MSW, LCSW
Co-Founder of Pregnancy Awareness Month®, yogini, and mom to an amazing wonder