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May 09, 2017

The importance of playtime: Activities to boost your little one's development

Parenting Playtime
Playtime_KatieGagnon Katie Gagnon/for PhillyVoice

Katie ensures her 7-month-old son has lots of playtime that incorporates fun activities to benefit his physical and mental development.

Playtime elicits some of my favorite moments with my son. I love watching him laugh and learn, grow and explore. I follow Killian’s lead if he wants to play his guitar, pick up a book, chew on his stuffed animals or play with a ball. Usually, we do all of the above in quick succession. And then repeat! My goal is that his playtime is organic, amusing and gratifying. At every stage of my son’s childhood, I want him to know the simple joy of having fun.

As his mother and, in many ways, his first teacher, I also feel it is my responsibility to help my son grow both physically and mentally to meet important developmental milestones. I have done some research and spoken with Killian’s pediatrician about playtime activities that will benefit my son’s motor skills and cognitive development. Here is an overview of how I am facilitating his growth while engaging in playtime fun.

Large Motor Skills Development

Large, or gross, motor skills require strength and coordination. Developing those little muscles is important to a baby’s physical development and advancement. When your baby is a newborn, parent-monitored tummy time is crucial to building up the strength that will allow him to hold up his head and roll over. Once Killian was rolling both ways and his neck was strong, we started encouraging him to sit up.  A sitting young baby usually looks like a drunken guy on a boat, so at first, I would sit behind Killian or use a Boppy pillow to give him some support. Now, at 7 months old, he sits well by himself, but I always stay near just in case. He seems to enjoy sitting up like a big boy, but he really loves crawling. I am amazed at how quickly he zooms around our home. In the development of large motor skills, it is important to encourage your baby to change positions (from tummy to back to tushy to crawling) so they strengthen lots of different muscles. I recommend singing songs and playing with different toys while encouraging movement and always staying present with your child to monitor his activity and energy. Killian is always on the move, and it is so exciting to watch his physical development advance, but I am also mindful of encouraging rest. His naps are just as crucial to his large motor skills development as his action.

Small Motor Skills Development

Developing a baby’s small motor skills is most easily encouraged through various toys. If your little one is like mine, he absolutely loves playing with stuffed animals, rattles, musical toys,  blocks and balls. He also loves going after things he shouldn’t, like the remote control. Providing Killian with safe, age-appropriate toys of different textures, shapes, colors and sizes is the best way to grow his small motor skills. We do hand games and songs like clapping, Itsy Bitsy Spider and “gimme five.” We have a number of books that have different textures for him to feel and learn, which he enjoys. In the past week, he has started following the prompts in "Pat the Bunny" all by himself. I was shocked and proud when he started using his thumb and index finger to play Peek-A-Boo with Paul. Developing these small motor skills will lead to your child’s ability to do things for himself like draw and write, feed and dress.

Cognitive Development

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cognitive, or brain, development means the learning process of memory, language, thinking and reasoning. Babies naturally absorb everything around them to aid their mental development. Playtime and parental involvement can greatly assist. When baby is a newborn, experts recommend reading, talking and singing to your child. Visual stimulation with toys and mirrors is also encouraged. When baby is 3 to 6 months old, experts recommend reading colorful books and talking to your child while also introducing new toys and activities that incorporate music and sounds, mirrors and various textures. Now that Killian is 7 months old, I am continuing to read and sing to him. I talk to him all day long, narrating our activities, incorporating rhymes into story and playtime and describing the things around us or in his hands. We are continuing to explore sounds, music and textures. I also talk about the different senses to my baby boy, especially when we are outside. Look at the green trees. Do you hear the birds? Feel the soft blanket. Can you smell the cut grass? I encourage exploration by hiding a toy under a blanket in front of Killian and asking him to find it. As he gets older, I will add new activities to Killian’s life, like asking simple questions, playing with puzzles, stacking toys and discovering new motions like open and shut, up and down. A baby’s brain is developing rapidly when they are young, so I believe it is important to help bolster my son’s cognitive development while having fun together.

When I was pregnant, reading about how to assist my baby’s growth and development seemed overwhelming. How can anyone possibly remember to do all of this? And if I don’t do it all perfectly, am I failing my son?! If you are a new parent like me, try not to stress. Playtime should be fun! Spending time with your child should be a delight! If you are present and loving, provide a few different toys and books, talk and sing, cuddle and love your child, then you will naturally aid in the development of his body and brain. Look to other parents and your pediatrician for advice and, most importantly, follow your baby’s lead. Killian is inherently curious, adventurous and playful. Our playtime and his learning grow organically out of his desires. He knows what he wants, his body is growing and his mind is advancing. My role is to be a conduit for helping him learn and, most importantly, to keep him safe while he grows.

Your child’s young years are not just centered on developing body and mind but also building a bond and trust between parent and child. The best thing to provide to your precious baby in order to help them grow well is your time and attention.

Do you incorporate different activities into playtime to assist in your baby’s development? What is your favorite thing to do with your little one? Share with me and other parents in the comments section below or tweet me @ThePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.

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