Dr. Katie Heathershaw, Paediatrician and Fisher-Price Play IQ™ Expert, takes us through a range of Q&A about babies, toddlers and their play.
Are there any tips for finding the balance between playing with my son who is two, versus expecting him or setting him up to play by himself? He's has a variety of toys, but struggles to spend much time independently playing.
The toddler years are an important stage for your little one to become confident and more independent but he still needs you close by. He may want to explore, but he will also need you nearby to check back in with. For most children, separation anxiety peaks at around 18 months, but if it still seems to be a concern then perhaps check with your health nurse or doctor. At two your son may also be developing his imagination and fine motor skills so it’s a great idea to have a craft box of things to encourage creative play, such as crayons, coloured paper and ribbons, plastic cups and Popsicle sticks. Two year olds also love to imitate the adults around them in their daily tasks – set him up next to you while you're preparing food or folding washing and get him his own broom to help sweep up. Your housework may take a bit longer but the time you spend in useful play with your little one will be worth it! Another great tip is to divide his favourite toys into separate groups and pack some away so you can keep the novelty factor high and rotate regularly. Swapping toys with your mothers' group is also a great idea!
What should the balance be for structured and unstructured play for babies from six months onwards?
Unstructured play, or play that 'just happens', let's your baby take the lead and move at their own pace. This may be floor time, free play with toys, interactive games like peek-a-boo, sharing a book or a simple tickling game during nappy change. Structured play is more organised and happens at a set time and place, and is often adult led. Examples include water familiarisation classes, music classes, baby gym classes, or storytelling groups at the library. Although unstructured play should make up the largest proportion of babies' and toddlers' play time, structured play can also be fun. It can also be a lovely opportunity for older toddlers to play with their peers and for parents to meet other parents with children the same age.
I have an eight-week-old and I read each day to him and pop some toys in front of him, sing sometimes and ohh and ahhh with him. Is there anything else I should be doing? I feel like I am boring him!
For babies, the best toy is you! You will never be boring to him, and he would probably be blissfully happy if you would simply spend time smiling, babbling and singing to him all day. Your eight week old is able to see a bit more clearly and may also be starting to discover his hands, so you can start to introduce more colourful objects like the Fisher-Price™ Rainforest Friends Comfort Curve™ Bouncer, rattles and mobiles for him to watch and track, and to encourage grasping. It is never too early to read to him so that is a great daily activity - look out for books with colourful pictures or textured pages. Introduce songs with actions like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Five Little Ducks”. Tummy time for a few minutes several times a day will help strengthen his upper body, shoulders and neck muscles. The Fisher-Price Play IQ™ website (www.fisherprice.com.au/playiq) is also a great resource for ideas of what you could be doing. The fun Play IQ quiz on the website helps you to assess your baby’s level of development in physical, cognitive, and social and emotional areas, and no matter where they are at, suggests activities that are best suited to their development.
My 12-month old has a lot of toys that light up and play music which I'm not sure is 'teaching' her anything. When do kids start imaginative play, when/how can I encourage this?
Actually all play is important for learning! The toys you describe that light up and play music teach her that her actions (e.g. pushing a button) can have an amazing consequence: lights and music. This is an important early lesson in cause and effect! The music may also encourage dancing and movement and teach her about rhythm - a great opportunity for a baby dance party! Babies are fascinated by the world from birth onwards and their brains and imagination expand all the time. Make believe play such as mimicking phone conversations, tea parties and pretending may start from around 15 months. Some other ideas to stimulate imaginative play include:
If you need some more inspiration the Fisher-Price Play IQ™ website is a good source. You’ll find a quiz on the site which asks a series of simple questions about what milestones your little one is displaying, to work out where your baby is at on their development journey. You’ll then be provided with some suggestions for what activities would be beneficial to best support your little one – enabling them to play and progress!
How can I get my LO to like tummy time? She just rolls over and refuses it! It takes half the time to flip her back over. She's six months and sits independently with a little unsteadiness and rolls from front to back and back to front.
I would say the purpose of tummy time has been achieved! In other words we recommend tummy time to strengthen the upper body, shoulders and neck muscles in preparation for rolling and sitting. Job done!
My 17-month-old twin girls’ play consists in most part of climbing. Anything and everything. Zooming on their bikes and chasing each other around while pushing chairs and other furniture. They will sit quietly and listen to stories etc. but 5 minutes is about the most I can engage them in that sort of activity. Should I do more 'actual play' with my twins or just let them explore and 'go a little wild'? I would hope for intelligence and not craziness later on!
It sounds like your twins are developing beautifully, and of course are lucky enough to have ready-made play mates in each other. Your story is a perfect example of unstructured play at its finest! In other words, children engaging in free play, at their own pace (in your girls' case full speed ahead!) and according to their own interests. It sounds like you may be a little concerned at their preference for active play over quieter, more focused activities like books, drawing, and puzzles. Firstly, I would not be too concerned about this at 17 months.
Although some kids at this age may sit and concentrate on books, many have a rather short attention span! When you are choosing books, those with an interactive element like 'lift the flap' or ‘press the button’ for a noise may hold their attention a little longer. Remember to really amp up the dramatics with the funny voices and acting out the story too!
I would love some ideas for activities/games/crafts to do with an 18 month old. I'm feeling like I've exhausted my resources. Would also like to know how I can encourage and help develop language skills through play/activities. I'm not overly concerned about my daughter not speaking as she does say a few words, I'd just like to encourage her to use her words more. Oh and some fun ways to learn the alphabet and numbers too.
Definitely jump onto the Fisher-Price Play IQ website for a whole range of activities and games to try out with your little one. Try taking it outside with activities like drawing in chalk on the footpath, which can teach fine motor skills, language skills and colours. Try messy water play with different sized containers, to teach about big and little, or even set up a pretend café to get her imagination going. A range of different sized cardboard boxes can encourage creative play with stacking activities doubling as a place to hide, a crawl through tunnel or a pretend car! Blowup balls or balloons are a safe and easy way to introduce throwing and catching and encourage eye-hand coordination. Her language will continue to develop, just keep talking to her, reading to her and listening, building on and responding to what she says. For example, if she says “Car”, you can say “Yes, it's a blue car. The blue car's going fast, brmm brmm”. The Fisher-Price™ Laugh & Learn™ Puppy's Smart Train is a great toy for encouraging her to use words with songs, tunes and phrases and the five shape buttons introduce colours, numbers and more. There are lovely children's books that introduce alphabet and numbers, just ask at your local library. More importantly, introduce them in normal situations, for example counting the potatoes into the shopping bag, the pegs into the clothes basket, or “One, two, threeee!” when she goes down the slide.
I have a nearly three-year-old boy and a one-year-old. My three-year old-will not share with his brother or any child. He doesn't like share his toys with anyone. Any tips on how to get him to share with his brother and friends?
This is a very common concern, and in your case, may in part be due to sibling rivalry. Just think about it from your three year old’s point of view: he was king of the world and didn’t have to share with anyone for two years plus until little brother comes along and got old enough to take an interest in his toys. It's not hard to understand with such a big change in his little world how he may want to take control of the few things he can! A positive approach is what is needed. Encouragement and praise of sharing behavior - perhaps consider a short term sticker chart to kick things off. Tell him you're looking out for big boy sharing behaviour and if you see it he will be awarded a sticker on his ‘Big Boy Chart'. A row of stickers will earn a 'lucky dip' prize. Remember he is allowed to have certain 'special' things that he doesn't share with little brother and other friends. Discuss this with him and let him choose which toys are off limits. These can be put away out of reach until little one is having a nap, or the visitors have gone home.
My son is 13 months and loves play time. But no matter how much I try he doesn't point at things. He would stare at the relevant object, but not point. Should I be worried? Should I try something specific at playtime to encourage him?
This is a great question because it reminds us that when it comes to developmental milestones every child is different and will develop at their own pace. Some children may point out things of interest at this age, others may do so a little later. The Fisher-Price Play IQ™ Quiz is one good way to help you understand where your baby is at in their developmental journey and determine what advice and activities would be beneficial to best support your child, no matter what stage they are at. The important part of your comment is that your son loves play time, and if he loves playing and shares his enjoyment with you by looking at you, smiling and vocalizing, then the pointing will come. If you have concerns about your child's development you should see your health nurse or doctor.
Could you please give me a couple of ideas for playtime with my six-month-old, something that is a bit different? I work three days a week so really try and make the most of my days at home with my baby and want her to be entertained while learning.
Your six-month-old will love to spend time with you; what you actually do during that time is less important than sharing the closeness and enjoying each other's company. As a working mum it is very important that you look after yourself and make sure you are getting the rest and down time you need. If you don't look after yourself you can't look after your daughter. Baby play doesn't need to be complicated! She will love it if you look at her, blow raspberries, make faces and sing songs. There are a range of activities and game ideas on the Fisher-Price website which I would encourage you to check out as well. Place some different items on the high hair tray for her to explore-blocks, a wooden and plastic bowl to bash a cloth book. Tummy time can be more interesting if you introduce a mirror as she will love catching a glimpse of herself, even if she doesn't know who it is! If it's a nice day, take a walk to the park, talk about the sights and sounds along the way and set up a blanket under a shady tree for some outdoor 'floor' time. A few favourite toys, a soft ball to roll, and Mother Nature should make for a happy, learning, playtime!
This article was published in association with Fisher Price.