Learning through Play: Baby Toys

Over the past several months, I have been tackling the laborious task of going through my [thankfully already organized-by-date photos] to delete unwanted images – duplicates, blurry photos, etc. In recent months, I have been working through the snapshots taken during the time when my boys were babies.

It is hard to believe how fast the time goes. It feels so bittersweet to look at all of those sweet baby photos. My mama’s heart can hardly stand it – but as I’ve been soaking in these images, I’ve noticed a common theme, and it has to do with their toys.

All of those toys we registered for (Yes, we were thinking ahead.), all of those toys gifted to us by the grandparents, all of those educational toys we ordered from Amazon- In most every photo of my babies, I notice those things strewn about in the background while my little ones play with something else – a real-life something:

  • a basket full of diapers
  • a plastic package of baby wipes
  • an empty box – My boys are now in elementary school, and they STILL love playing with empty boxes! ha!
  • pots and pans
  • wooden kitchen utensils
  • plastic bowls
  • dish towels – Perfect for peek-a-boo!
  • straws
  • a mirror
  • cabinet doors and drawers
  • socks – any kind of laundry, actually (clean or dirty – ha!)
  • a laundry basket
  • a blanket – More peek-a-boo fun!
  • a television remote
  • someone’s telephone
  • keys – Lots and lots of photos of this particular something! 

I found videos of my oldest carrying around an empty coffee can as well as a batch of photos featuring a beloved Ziploc® sandwich bag he loved on for weeks. Yes, yes, I know. 

Moral of the Story: Far more than toys, my babies have loved playing with everyday items that we owned long before advertisers worked their magic on us!

Learning through Play - Baby Toys

Seeing these images has served as a strong reminder of the three things I believe are most important for little ones:

First of all, read with your babies – not to them…but with them! Walk through the pictures in a book. Yes, there may even be times you don’t even read the words on the page. Talk about the animals you see, the colors you notice, the numbers of objects on a page, what is happening to the characters, how the characters are feeling, etc. Ask your little ones questions. They’re not old enough to answer? Ask them anyway! They’re already talking? Great! Allow them to ask you questions. They’re not ready to set still? No worries! Gift them with the freedom to roam and play while you keep reading…with enthusiasm and silly voices, of course.

A child who meets a concept from a beginning picture book will recognize an old friend when that concept is revisited in later years. 

– Mark and Christine Field

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Secondly, play with your babies. Yes, get down on the floor and play! Don’t worry too much about purchasing fancy new educational toys. In fact, you may even want to get rid of some of your toys and spend time playing with a select few that they really love. (How’s that for ruining the plans of all those advertisers out there?) Sure, there may be times when you might guide your baby toward a certain activity – What a fantastic opportunity for teaching them new things! But there is great value in gifting your little ones with the opportunity to guide their own play. Allow them to invite you in to their world – no matter how silly it might seem. Their world is way more fun – I promise!

Plus, this is an opportunity for you to discover how they learn!

Are they musical? Artistic? Dramatic? (ha! I know some of you are laughing out loud at that one!) Do they like to move? Do they need time alone? Which of their five senses seem most engaged when they’re playing? Learning how they learn which will be invaluable to you in the coming years.

Learning can happen in many different environments, and often the best learning is hands-on and child-initiated.

-Lorilee Lippincott

Learning through Play - Baby Toys

Last of all – and probably most important of all – live life with your babies. In my e-book, Lifestyle Homeschooling, I invite homeschoolers to embrace a round-the-clock culture of learning in their home, but this concept of living and learning together is for all families! In what ways can you include your little one in real life activities that gift them with the opportunity to engage with the world around them? Where do you already go? What kinds of things are you already doing? Now consider how you can slow down a bit and include your child in the day-to-day conversations, experiences, and activities that are already a part of your family’s lifestyle. 

This approach to living will teach your child far more than simulated situations ever could!

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More Ideas for Learning through Play with your Baby:

I’ll just give a few of our favorites, so it doesn’t feel too overwhelming. 

IN THE HIGHCHAIR

Encourage an interest in new foods by matching make-believe play food items with real foods you want your baby to explore! Name the foods. Chat about the colors you see. Describe how the food feels…how it tastes. Playing with food? Why not?!

Use the highchair as a the perfect space for enjoying sensory activities – pudding, yogurt, applesauce. Let them write and draw and do all those fun baby things that will someday serve as a fantastic foundation for writing skills. (Just be sure to move their highchair away from the wall. I speak from experience.)

Got two in high chairs? Turn them to face each other! Let them talk. (We’ve liked that this booster-style seat with a tray can be used in a chair or on the floor – with supervision, for sure.)

Can you think of any other ideas? While my babies have been in high chairs, we’ve worked puzzles, read books, practiced brushing our teeth, etc. While they’re contained for a few minutes – take advantage of it! Once they let you know they’re ready to get down (You’ll definitely know when that is! ha!), let them get down and get movin’ again! If they don’t want to sit there with you long, no worries – keep it short and sweet and light and fun. Remember, they’re babies!

Learning through Play - Baby Toys - In Highchair

IN THE BATHTUB

Take an extra bath just for fun – in the middle of the day!

Fill the bath with bubbles! OR Blow bubbles their way and let them try to catch them! Say, Pop, Pop, Pop!

Fill the tub with Mega Blocks® OR Bristle Blocks and build! Yes, in the water!

Color Bath, anyone?

Read aloud to them or sing silly songs with them while they play.

IN THE CAR SEAT

Play music and sing along out loud.

Read storybooks aloud to them (unless you’re the one driving – ha!).

Bring along a toy they’ve not seen in awhile or a pack of touch-and-feel sensory cards you can hand them one-at-a-time.

Try skipping the movies! Or if you’re headed out on a loooooong trip, maybe consider using technology for only a portion of the trip. I realize this can be tricky, and sometimes you’re in survival mode. The goal? To embrace opportunities for learning – NOT to stress you out completely. ha!

We’ve had car trips where I’ve handed my toddler a bucket of baby wipes for them to empty completely! I was desperate, and guess what? It kept them busy for at least fifteen minutes. It gave me a minute to catch my breath, and I decided to chalk it up as fantastic fine motor skills practice. NOTE: They didn’t eat any of them…I don’t think.

IN THE STROLLER

I love singing to my baby while I’m pushing them in their stroller. The neighbors probably wonder about me, but that’s okay. That’s how my littles have learned Jesus Loves Me and You are My Sunshine. As they got older, that’s how they have learned the days of the week, The Pledge of Allegiance, and The Lord’s Prayer. Nothing formal here – just out for a walk.

Don’t feel like talking or singing? Play music or an audio-story on your phone – letting your device hang out in your cup holder while you stroll.

DURING DIAPER CHANGES OR ON THE POTTY

Diaper Time/Potty Time has been a great time for singing and rhyming. As a new mom, I had grand plans of always doing nursery rhymes during this time, but usually I find myself singing a Daniel Tiger song that I have stuck in my head: “You can take a turn and then I’ll get it back…” This singing habit keeps baby distracted enough that we’re able to take care of the task at hand – if you know what I mean.

AT BEDTIME

Before bedtime in our house, we play, read together, and say our prayers. Different seasons of life have called for different things, but our Bedtime Basket has worked great for us – and can be adapted for just about any age!

As they go to sleep, we have always made sure to have different kinds of music playing for this. These lullabies have been our favorite.

Learning through Play - Baby Toys

You get the idea: ENGAGE!

Simply make an effort to maintain a back-and-forth dialogue with your babies in a way that works for you and them:

naming objects – counting them, too

pointing out colors and shapes

mimicking sounds

explaining in, out, up, down, over, under, etc.

and on and on it can go when you invite them in to the day-to-day.

A Few Things to Remember

Every little one is different – developing at their own pace and with their own interests driving much of their activity. Don’t compare them to others. That will ruin all the fun!

Your job is to simply relax and remember your three must-dos:

  • Read with them. 
  • Play with them. 
  • Live life with them. 

As these become woven into your lifestyle, you will be amazed at the way your child learns and grows and thrives – with or without all those toys from Amazon!

Learning through Play - Baby Toys

Need to make some changes?

Don’t stress yourself out attempting a total overhaul of your daily routines. Simply consider one simple adjustment you could make to your daily routine with your baby, and then go from there. I would love for you to use my ideas for inspiration but to consider your own family as you brainstorm would might work well in your home.

As you go along, remember not to get frustrated when your baby exhibits developmentally appropriate behavior. When they throw things (for fun) or knock down towers (for fun), or dump out buckets full of things (for fun), be proud of them! They’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing! If you’re not so sure about all of this, maybe Google what is developmentally appropriate for your child’s age/stage – It might just help you feel less frustrated as you read…and play…and live life with your little person.

As you try new things with your baby, you may discover that they enjoy something less than you anticipated…or more than you’d ever imagine (Remember the plastic sandwich bag that my oldest loved so much? ha!). Give them space to explore and lead the way. This is the very beginning of encouraging a life-long love of learning in your little one – which if you’re anything like me, that’s your goal!

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