From the moment your baby is born, she’ll use all five senses to discover the world around her.
She’s learning: to smile, babble, coo, grasp, roll over, sit up.
Best buy: A playmat with solid blocks of black and white, or bold colours in simple shapes. Her vision is still blurred but she can see these.‘As they love to look at new things, giving babies lots of varied visual stimulation is important,’ says John Oates, Open University’s senior lecturer in developmental psychology. ‘Even in the earliest months, babies are beginning to learn about similarities and differences in things they see.’
What else could I get? Until she can reach it, hang a brightly coloured mobile over her cot. One that turns and plays music will improve her head-and-eye co-ordination.
A simple rattle will help her locate sound, grasp an object and gradually understand cause-and-effect. Until she can grasp (at about 4 months), try wrist rattles and rattle socks.Babies love gazing at faces, so hang a baby mirror (although she won’t know who she’s looking at until she’s about 18 months old).
Your baby’s ready to move!
She’s learning: to release her grip, pick up smaller things, understand words and maybe say a few, plus crawl, stand, ‘cruise’ and, possibly, walk.
Best buy: A simple inflatable ‘roller’ with rattling balls or bells inside. It’ll encourage her to move towards it.
What else could I get? Once your baby’s sitting up, fill a large plastic tub with objects of varying textures – household items as well as small toys. She’ll love taking them out, exploring them with her hands and mouth, and putting them back. Try squeezy rubber balls, silky or velvety fabric, a new wooden spoon – anything she can’t swallow or break that isn’t sharp. Swap items often so she doesn’t get bored.
Rag and board books aren’t only for chewing! They teach her that books are fun. Flaps and textures encourage her to explore the pages with you.
Playtime tip: She learns that an object is still there, even if she can’t see it. Hide toys under a scarf and help her find them, or play peek-a-boo.
Self awareness – physical and psychological – is a big deal right now.
She’s learning: to run, talk in sentences, understand who she is and play alongside other kids.
Best buy: A toddler-size table and chairs. Ensure that the table’s surface is smooth. Sit with her and choose different activities each day. A ‘big girl’s’ table helps the transition from baby to toddler. If there are four chairs, friends (and special soft toys) can join in because, says Oates, ‘Learning from and with others of similar ages is good for mental as well as social development.’
What else could I get? Puzzles At first, basic puzzles with knobs. Then nine-piece puzzles – print a picture of your child, stick onto card and cut into nine pieces. Crayons and paper are the first step to holding a pencil. Playdough, plus plastic prodding and cutting tools. Basic bricks teach how to put one thing on top of another and to sort. Push-along walkers encourage balance, strength and mobility.
Playtime tip: Use action rhymes and songs, often repeated, to aid language.
Role-play and make-believe help pre-schoolers learn social skills, communication and empathy.
She’s learning: confidence, independence and sharing (very hard!).
Best buy: Introduce a dressing-up box, not with just store-bought outfits but hats, feather boas, cast-off dresses, shirts. ‘It helps children develop ideas about their own identity,’ says Oates.
What else could I get? As children grow, threading large beads or cotton reels will improve dexterity. Coloured pencils, chalks and a blackboard will promote creativity; concentration and co-ordination (perhaps keep paints for the kitchen). Add a craft box with stickers, tissue paper and a glue stick. Musical instruments such as a shaker, tambourine and bells encourage your child to listen, create music, sing, and use her hands. For indoors, soft skittles are ideal for hand-eye co-ordination and spatial sense.
Playtime tip: Play I-Spy with colours or go on a colour hunt, asking her to find five things that are purple.