This is an article which was kindly contributed by By Dr Lin Day, founder of Baby Sensory (www.babysensory.com). We love the ideas on encouraging your baby to play and exlore the world around and would love to hear what you think about free flow play.
Babies have a biological predisposition to play. The evolutionary importance of play is survival. It is how your baby learns about themselves, the world and other people.
There are two types of play: free-flow (unstructured) or structured. Both contribute to your baby’s development, but in different ways. Structured play is planned, organised and adult-led. Free-flow play is not directed or structured. It is a flexible, self-motivated activity that is initiated and controlled by your baby. There are no set rules or guidelines. Your baby decides what toys interest them the most, how they explore them, how long the play will last and when they need support or help.
During free-flow play, your baby may look at you as if to say “Be there for me, but don’t do anything unless I need help.” Your reassuring presence and encouragement will support the play and build up social skills, but your baby will let you know if they need a helping hand.
The following activities offer endless opportunities for exploration, discovery, problem-solving, imagination and creative thinking. They will keep your baby busy, happy and interested and provide an emotional outlet for tension and frustration. Your baby will also entertain themselves for short periods, which will become a beneficial life habit.
A drawer, box or bag filled with different objects, which your baby can take out and put back.
- A handbag filled with safe items such as a scarf, a soft nailbrush, a squeaky toy or rattle.
- A cardboard box filled with soft toys and textured fabrics.
- Wooden spoons to bang on pots and pans.
- Balls, building blocks, musical instruments, plastic containers that fit together, plastic tea sets and other age-appropriate toys.
Toys have the advantage of being safe and specially adapted to your baby’s age and stage of development. Your baby will look at them, listen to the sounds that they make, touch, smell and taste them, which builds neural pathways in the brain and develops intelligence.
Your baby will also want to understand how the world works by exploring the environment on their own terms. You can set the stage by making the environment safe and by providing tools to support and extend their mobility, thinking and reasoning skills. The following resources may be helpful:
Toys that can be pulled around the furniture.
- Stroller trucks that can be pushed while walking.
- Tunnels that can be crawled through.
- Cushions or pillows that can be crawled over or around.
- Toy cars that can be crawled after or rolled across the floor.
A ball will encourage a whole range of mobility skills as well as hand-eye coordination and sensory exploration. Balls that are lightweight, bouncy or make playful sounds can provide an endless source of amusement and fun.
Free-flow play is serious business, but this does not mean that structured play with carers, family members and friends is any less important. Reading books, singing, playing peek-a-boo, showing your baby how to put rings on a stacker or shapes in a sorter builds social and language skills and provides the emotional security that your baby needs for healthy development. However to fully utilise their ingenuity, creativity and problem solving skills, your baby also needs to explore and make discoveries on their own.