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Play: 9 to 12 months

Babies at 9 to 12 months are really moving and grooving! They are in to almost everything and will likely be pulling to stand, cruising along furniture, and preparing to take those first few wobbly steps! This is also a bittersweet time for many parents (myself included) as you see your little baby vertical – even if holding on to something! Typically, by 9 months, babies are sitting unsupported and reaching for toys, crawling (tummy up or down) and by the end of this stage, babies are creeping, pulling to stand, cruising, and some may even be walking. Their ability to move in new ways (crawl, stand, even walk) makes it easier to explore and helps them make new discoveries.

Play: 6 to 8 Months

Babies 6 to 8 months continue to move, play, and grow at an amazing rate!  At times, it seems as though they are learning something new every day!   Many of the same principles that we discussed in the post about play with your 4 to 6 month old continue to apply.  Here are 5 new tips to consider:

SAFETY:  A moving baby who puts everything into his mouth needs to be watched all the time because he can quickly swallow small objects or creep into unsafe places. Babies are not able to understand about danger. Lock away unsafe objects or put them high out of reach.  Many experts advise to use the TP Rule: if an object can fit through the hole in a toilet paper tube, then it is too small for a child 3 and under to play with.  If there are older siblings in the home, please teach this to them as well so they can be an active participant in determining what toys can be out when baby is playing.  PLEASE ENSURE THE SAFETY OF YOUR BABY by childproofing!  Get down on the floor, crawl around, and see what your little explorer could find!

Social: Time for play dates!  Start early – this is as much for you as it is for your baby!  People are much more interesting than things and babies love to see other little people that look like they do!  You and baby will also create lasting friendships.

Stranger/Separation Anxieties: Expanding baby’s social circle is important but be aware of his sensitivity when around strangers and when separating from mom (stranger anxiety and separation anxiety).  If you do have to leave, make sure you still say good bye and explain that you will be back.

Simple: Babies don’t need fancy toys!  They can be happy playing with a set of measuring cups, exploring plastic bowls or a spoon, etc.  The main point to remember is offering varying sizes, shapes, colors and textures.  Remember, baby is not impressed by labels or price tags!

Sun, Sand, Snow:  It’s time to get outdoors!   Baby is now old enough to be outside with baby safe sunscreen so spend time enjoying it.   Watch the trees moving in the wind and try to find birds, flowers, doggies, and other people.   Talk about you are finding as you explore the environment!  Baby loves to hear the sound of your voice and the more you speak in a happy, sing-song voice, the more your baby will listen, engage, and learn.  Try and make some of the sounds that you hear.   This is also a great time for more walks in the stroller or in the carrier.  Don’t forget other fun activities like crawling on the grass, putting feet in the sand, playing with bubbles, to name a few.

Take time to truly marvel this amazing stage of development . . . it will be gone before you know it!

Exploring outdoors 8.5 months Feet in Sand 8.5 moths Bubbles 8 months Beach Carrier Senses Crawling on Grass 9 months

 

Play: 2 to 4 Months

Continuing with the play theme, your 2 to 4 month old baby is definitely more alert, more interactive, and more interested in initiating exploring his world. You just need to give yourself permission to linger, to observe and to marvel. It will still take a while for him to organize purposeful movements, sounds, smiles, and coos, but if you linger it will happen. And then you will be addicted and do everything in your power to see him do it again!

A 2 to 3 month baby smiles and coos, holds his head more steadily in midline, and controls gross shoulder movements to reach his arm in space towards something interesting. His favorite toy is still YOU, but you can also introduce bold colored or simply patterned books or toys (or safe Christmas ornaments). His gross reach into space will be more like a punch with a closed fist (no controlled grasp with hand yet), but when his hands are closer to his body and face or on an object, they will open and scratch at the surfaces.

I caught my husband playing with Kellan on the changing table, giving and receiving “body blows” with right and left jabs and hooks. I LOVED seeing this because Neil entered Kellan’s world. He observed what Kellan was doing and gave meaning to it. Kellan’s blows knocked Neil a few paces backwards or to the side, and with every repetition, Kellan understood more and more that his movements were affecting his environment. He was in control! Smiles and coos followed. No laughs yet, but we are waiting to hear Kellan’s first giggle!

A 3 to 4 month baby definitely exhibits more control, keeping body symmetrical right and left, top to bottom. Reaching is more refined and, when body is supported, head control is great with very little wobbling! This all translates into more refined play. Baby will turn his head to your voice, follow you with his eyes, reach for and briefly grasp objects. Expect more cooing and smiling. And his favorite toy…..YOU! Faces fascinate baby, but if you need to step away, try placing baby near a mirror so he can see himself!

Babies at this time are busy exploring all that they see. Because head control is greatly improved, eyes have the opportunity to fix themselves on different objects to study them. You will find baby staring at you and if in the right position, different parts of his own body (which he considers to be completely separate from himself). Though he can’t yet do it by himself, if you bring his feet into view, he will study them like they are the most amazing phenomena ever. This often elicits gross reaching and swiping at them. Self-discovery is so important, and this age is a perfect one to start “naked playtime.” Take his clothes and diaper off and in a warm room on a blanket or floor mat, place him on back, tummy and side and let him move around and explore in the buff. He will get his hand-to-hand, hand-to-chest, hand-to-face/head/mouth. If your house is just too cold, linger a little longer in the bathtub for the same experience.

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Other ideas include music and singing, starting peer time in playgroups (babies LOVE other babies…and it’s a great time for moms/dads to get together), reading (never to early for this), and lingering with the daily tasks. Your play will come naturally if you really observe your baby, enter his world and help him make sense of it. Be respectful of his needs and follow his cues, whether he wants more intense sensory experiences or to calm down a bit. Sometimes it can be a challenge to read your baby and know what they need, but through daily play and interaction, you will continue to know your little guy and love him that much more!

What are some of your favorite play activities at this age?

Buy This: All About Timing

Timing of gifts are as important as the gift itself. The ages stated on toys are both for safety and for children’s cognitive abilities. Buy one too early and you might frustrate your child; buy one too late and they’ll be bored. This is another reason to purchase toys that appeal to all ages, inspire creativity and imagination, and can be played with differently as your child grows and matures. This post discusses Stacking Cups and Push Toys.

A toys that works at most ages: Stacking Cups

– 4-6 months: watch parent spin them on floor, reach for them as grasp emerges, mouth them
– 6-7 months: Bang two together with one in each hand
– 7-8 months: Passing single cup hand to hand
– 10 months: Container to put things in
– 12-14months: Rolled on floor, picked up from floor, playing hide and seek for the cup, using as a container to put things in AND dump them out
– 15-17 months: Stacking
– 17+: Stacking higher and higher and KNOCKING it over in fun, novel ways :-), sorting, more complex games! Watch your child play with them to give you ideas how to jump in, join THEIR world and help expand it.

A toy that should be delayed before introduced: Push Toy

A push toy often has 12 months of age associated with it, but that is assuming your child is walking. A push toy should NOT be introduced before your child is walking independently. Many people believe that it can be a walking aide that teaches a child to walk. In fact, it encourages movement compensations that impede independent walking and encourages taking forward steps with heavy leaning on hands. Walking with a push toy before independent walking is also a safety hazard because the child cannot control the speed or direction of the toy, which can get away from them. Their protective extension (arms forward to break a fall) is not yet fast enough to always help them catch their inevitable fall.
However, once a child is walking well, push toys are FABULOUS! Small grocery carts can be filled and emptied and transported place to place. Parents can make the cart heavy by placing gallon cartons filled with water into the basket (or allowing kids to use many small water bottles so they can do the heavy lifting), requiring stronger pushing and pulling. Obstacle courses can be set up to steer in, out and around, encouraging problem solving with the inevitable crashes (and, unbelievably, providing a foundation for prepositions in language!). It is also a great core workout–just think how much your abs need to work to steer those wayward grocery carts in the store! And of course, it allows your little one to do a “mommy/daddy” job and trains them for using the “customer in training” carts at the stores!

Timing is key when first introducing toys. Appropriate expectations for play will help you to make smarter selections. Kids are always drawn to novel things, so rotating toys every few weeks will rekindle interest in old toys and give you an opportunity to see how they approach their toys differently. Ultimately, engage with them in the play: first observe what they are doing, join in to be with them in the moment and then help them expand OR be amazed as they push YOUR limits!

Have fun! Play lots! Be SILLY!

Guest Post: YOU are the BEST Toy

Christmas is nearly here! Soon, you and your little ones will likely be knee deep in toys, wrapping paper, and fun! As we bring our Buy This/Not That Series to a close, we have a guest post from a wonderful speech and language therapist. In this special post, Miss Lori reminds us all of something very important, a message that can carry us throughout the years.

When thinking about what toys to pick for your child, keep in mind that it is not the toy itself but what YOU do with it that brings the magic to the play. Ultimately YOU are the best toy for your child. From the very beginning stages of development, it is the relationship YOU create with your child that supports the development of his or her creative mind. YOU bring the play to life whether cradling your baby in your arms, banging on a pot with him while singing your favorite tune, or all dressed up as a princess in her favorite castle. IT is YOU that helps your child make connections, build experiences and help get the ideas flowing. With time, you will start to see your child bring in their own ideas from their own experiences and begin the process of thinking, learning and creating.

Here are just a few ideas for toys/household items that will facilitate the fun, creative play above:

Infant: Laundry basket, Books, Stackers/nesters, any time/anything that supports face to face interactions with your child! Get down and view the world from their eyes!

Toddler: Pots/Pans, Hats, Buckets/Balls, Bubbles, Bowls, Beads, Blankets, YOU!

Preschool: Tents, Puppets, Plush Toys, Boxes, Dress Up (be creative with what you have!), YOU!

Embrace the magic of your child and see the world through their eyes! Thank You Miss Lori for this reminder!

By: Lori Jenkinson, SLP-CCC

Buy This…If You Can: The Changing Table Challenge

This title takes on many meanings. From a baby that does not like being placed on his back, getting dressed or undressed, to the wiggle worm who just cant seem to be still enough to get business done, to the balancing game of whether to dodge or catch pee, poop and spit up! Changing can really be a challenge.

But today we are going to focus on the actual table. My sister had the first baby in our family, in Belgium. I went to visit and the MOST fun place to play with baby was on the changing table. It was oriented so that the head was up, feet were down and the “changer” was standing at baby’s feet. There were necessary items logically placed and within reach and baby followed my every move, looking back and forth, up and down as I went about the business of cleaning, diapering and donning clothes.

After the business was done, we stayed to play. I played peekaboo using her feet, I watched her facial expressions and mimicked them, utterly enthralled when she engaged in a true “conversation,” and I watched with awe as she tried to organize volitional movements with her head, arms and legs. A diaper change that can last as little as a couple minutes turned into a 20 minute play time session. It was wonderful!

Fast forward 2 years when I became pregnant and went searching for my changing table. Much to my dismay, there was not ONE SINGLE TABLE in the United States that was oriented with baby’s head up. ALL of them were sideways, designed for “changers” to stand at baby’s side. I finally found one from a manufacturer that is now out of business (see photos). It is a separate top that bolts onto the dresser and into the wall for safety. It then folds out or back when you need to have easier access to the top drawer.

Why is this important? When you stand at baby’s feet, you are encouraging symmetry, with baby looking down at you (downward visual gaze). As you move about, baby looks left and right and back to center again, practicing holding midline positions. Standing at his feet, you notice asymmetries in baby’s head/neck and body, whether they are tilted left or right or resisting looking one way or the other. Because baby is on an elevated surface rather than on the floor, it’s better on your body and therefore easier to engage baby in conversation. In addition,using a flat pad rather than one with a trough and raised sides allows baby to roll sideways rather than blocking movement.

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By contrast, on US-designed tables, babies are typically positioned head to our left or right with little alteration. You are looking sideways at baby’s body and baby is always looking sideways at you. Given that we are very one-side-dominant adults, we tend to have a preference for which side we like to approach, so we don’t often change the way baby faces. Also, it’s tough to place your baby’s head on the spot his bottom was a few hours before. These changing tables facilitate asymmetry and imbalance, and if you do not engage in the switching which side baby’s head is on, baby is overdeveloping one side at the expense of the other.

I would LOVE to say “Buy This,” but I cannot find it! The challenge, therefore, is to FIND a changing table manufactured in the US that allows us to change at baby’s feet and is wide enough to safely allow movement side to side. I’m searching for a company that OR a person (who might want to start a company). Please, share your knowledge! Many babies and families will be thankful!

Buy This: Baby Proofing Services or Items

Though the general theme for our pro/con equipment recommendations is “less is better” in order to allow for more independent, self-driven exploration and development, the first priority is always safety.

Babies are little scientists and will explore every nook and cranny. Once they start rolling and crawling to get from place to place, your cute little blob that could be placed on a mat before can now not be out of your immediate sight, lest they get into some sort of trouble. This is when containers look really attractive, because we are exhausted supervising every second and cannot possibly be within arm’s reach all day long. BUT, rather than spending money on these devices that restrict movement, create a safe place where baby can explore. A large play yard is a start, but soon baby will want to explore his house! The entire house! And he will find his favorite spots, usually the most dangerous ones you never knew you had! This is where baby-proofing your house is essential. There are many do-it-yourself guides and products, but it might be worth having professionals come in and help to identify the risky areas you never knew you had.

In Greater San Diego area, Baby Safe Homes is a great company that comes in and performs an evaluation/inspection and installation (should you choose) the same day. Disclaimer: Move Play Grow has no financial ties to Baby Safe Homes, but I personally used them to baby proof our house and they were wonderful!

So, whether you choose to perform this task yourself or to outsource it, baby proofing BEFORE your baby becomes mobile is essential. Most accidents that occur with babies are preventable. Thoughtfully making your house safer will help relieve your anxiety about allowing baby to be the scientist he really wants to be!bday baby

Be Happy! Be Safe! Be Explorers!

Buy This…Not That: Play Table vs. Jumper

BUY THIS: Play Table

This type of toy is fairly new on the scene. I had one for my son and loved it. Even though it does have quite a few cause/effect buttons, sounds, etc. which can be overwhelming at times, I look past that due to the versatility of it! Below are three common uses:
1.) Legs Off/Flat on Ground. This is great for babies 2 to 6 months. Baby can activate it during tummy time, once he learns how to weight shift, and can also easily push buttons when sitting independently. Always make sure you supervise your little one as baby will likely bonk his face into the table during tummy time or tumble forward if a new sitter! If your baby is not yet sitting independently, you can provide assistance by supporting/putting your hands on the trunk. The lower your hands are, the harder he will have to work!
2.) Table with legs on/All 4 sides accessible: Your baby is ready for this around 9 to 12 months – when they start standing with minimal support and cruising. When baby is just starting to stand, he will likely lean on the table quite a bit so wedge the table in a corner (like between couch/wall) to prevent table and baby from toppling over! Baby will become more skilled at pull to stand and more controlled when squatting to sit back down. Eventually, you may notice a step or two to each side – that’s the beginning of cruising!
3.) Table Placed near another surface (couch): Your baby will likely be ready for this around 10 to 12 months. This may likely be the first time you see your little daredevil attempt to take steps on his own to reach the other surface. Creating safe opportunities to transfer between surfaces (especially YOU!) and allows your baby to build more and more confidence to eventually let go and step where he desires to go!
Although they may come with a few too many bells and whistles, these play tables meet other requirements to make it a great toy to have as your baby grows: can be played with in multiple positions, can be played with in multiple ways, appeals to many senses, etc. Look for them on Craigslist, garage sales, or baby resale shops too. Most parents won’t realize how versatile these tables are and you can score a great bargain! Check out the other creative ideas in this link  and always remember to supervise AND PLAY with your little one during these play table activity times!

537681_543116985699885_1459151832_n. . . NOT THAT: Doorway Jumpers

These jumpers look like so much fun and many parents think it is a great way for baby to exercise and gain strength in their legs. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics does not take a stance on the use of jumpers, the Consumer Products Safety Commission has banned many jumpers for design flaws.

Consider the following for your baby:

*The primary reason to avoid: RISK OF INJURY. Babies often jump too forcefully and hit their heads on the doorways or, even worse, cause the apparatus to come dislodged and crashing down. There are also other physical and developmental reasons why we recommend choosing a different product.

*Babies are often placed in them before they are truly excellent independent sitters causing baby to hang in the sling seat. This puts undue stress on their hips. Because babies tend to jump forcefully in these things they do not learn slow controlled movements needed for walking. These jumpers do nothing to develop strength in the core and leg muscles for balance and walking since the movements are fast and ballistic instead of slow and controlled. And, since baby is supported, there is no need to use any type of protective or balance reactions as would be needed in the beginning stages of standing and walking.

There are better choices out there! If you really need a place to “put” your baby, consider the old fashioned “play pen” (pack and play) or simple floor time where they can reach for objects, roll, creep and crawl!

Buy This: Toys to Encourage Movement

We love toys that encourage movement. Yet, if you think about it, you can make many toys encourage movement. Think about using bean bags, puzzle pieces, blocks, or stickers as a means to encourage physical activity with your child. Set up puzzle pieces at one end of the room and the puzzle board on another. Have your child do a different animal walk to retrieve each puzzle piece! Side walk chalk can be used to draw hopscotch boards, obstacle courses instead of simply drawing! Bean Bags serve as wonderful items to search for in a scavenger hunt!

Consider the “old school” toys for encouraging movement as well: balls, jump ropes, riding toys. With movement, encourage use of the arms and legs to build strength in the large muscle groups but also to work on developing balance and coordination. Jump ropes can be used as snakes to jump over and lines to walk along!

Football

Buy This: Multi-Purpose Items

Buy this: items that serve more than one purpose. As discussed earlier, infant positioning and alignment are important but often overlooked. One item that accomplishes all these criteria is a U-shaped head support pillow that cradles baby’s head in car seat, keeping it in midline. Car seats often have infant inserts, but they rarely keep baby’s head from falling to the side. These pillows, when used correctly, successfully do so most of the time.
This pillow also serves as a great prop for tummy time for younger babies up to 5 months. It lifts baby’s chest slightly, not overextending her back, helping her weight to shift backwards towards pelvis. It hugs her chest to prevent rolling to the side. It provides a barrier to keep elbows in line with or in front of shoulders.
I love finding truly useful, multipurpose items that are reasonably priced. The infant head support pillow fits these criteria beautifully.

Buy This…Not That: Stocking Stuffers

Next up in the Buy This/Not That Series . . .
Stocking Stuffers (or Gift Bag Loot)!

BUY THIS: For Toddlers on up, consider purchasing items such bubbles, kazoos, water bottle with straw, water flutes, or crazy straws. The common theme of these items is that they require a child to either blow or suck to complete the task. The benefit for YOU: blowing and sucking activities are great ways for a child to calm down, transition, or get organized! For example, a child who plays a song on a kazoo will likely calm down a bit due to the blowing and humming required. Blowing and sucking activities also help with oral muscle control, eye tracking, to name a few.

For babies, consider items such as rattles, teethers, board books, bathtub toys, music, or feeding supplies. Baby is still too young yet to grasp the concept so take the opportunity to stock up on some baby items that will be needed in the future. However, he will likely enjoy discovering what is inside!

NOT THAT: It’s simple – candy and sweets! Purchasing the items above saves you from the proverbial “sugar crash” and meltdowns because the entire stocking of candy cannot be eaten that day! You also get items that serve multiple purposes, provide developmental stimulation, and even may calm your kiddo after a long day of celebrating! As with all items, please supervise your child carefully!

Happy Stocking Stuffing!

Toys, Toys, Toys

As a pediatric physical therapist and a mom, I have played with many toys!   When I became a school therapist, I no longer had the luxury of being able to choose from many toys in many shapes and sizes.  Instead, my therapy “equipment” had to fit in the trunk of my Toyota Corolla.  I needed to have toys that were multi-functional, portable, and loads of fun.

As the years have passed, it seems harder to find these toys.   Toy manufacturers are making more toys that are either: one trick ponies, overstimulating, or oversized.  Perhaps it is becoming a bit too much? With the ever expanding influence of electronic media, our children spend more of their time being passively entertained by or minimally interacting by way of an electronic device. Today’s toys use onboard computers that dictate the play experience. This robs children of both unstructured play with friends and individual creative play.

A child’s job is to play.  That is how they learn about themselves and their environment.  A child’s natural curiosity facilitates learning from play.  It is what childhood is all about.  Toys can be “tools” to help a child grow physically, mentally, and socially.  But, with so many toy options out there between the big toy stores, deal sites, and Amazon, how do you know what toy would be the best choice?  Sure, you could read the list of reviews but here is another option.  The American Occupational Therapy Association has put together a Checklist for Toy Shopping, which lists questions to consider before purchasing a toy.  The Top 5 Questions that I use as a mom and a PT are listed below:

1.)    Can the toy be played with in more than one way?

Cups provide hours of self-initiated creative entertainment

Building toys (blocks, bristle blocks, tinker toys) encourage creativity, problem solving, and also focus on fine motor skills and hand strengthening.  Stacking cups are another great option.  This simple toy can be used to build, hide, scoop/pour, put in/take out.  In fact, this link provides 20 different ways to use stacking cups.

Think about some things that you may have used as toys when you were little!  Tupperware, pots/pans, and cardboard boxes all inspire imaginative play in your little one for a fraction of the cost of many fancy toys on the market today.  Stacking cups, measuring cups, Tupperware, and pots/pans can move from a play kitchen to the bath tub!  You can “bake” many yummy items in the bath tub with cups and bowls and it also reinforces activities such as pouring/mixing (ingredients), counting (cups of flour), etc.

 

2.)    Does the toy appeal to more than one sense?

Music-making brings in the year and remains a staple throughout

We want the child to be drawn to a toy and to remain interested.  Often, bright colors, lights, music, and textures will do just that.  However, be cautious not to provide too much stimulation!  A toy that provides too much can have the adverse effect of shut down or disinterest.  Instead of your child pushing a button and hearing music, consider musical instruments.  They are portable, encourage rhythm and imagination.  Helpful hint: if you do have a toy that is too loud, try placing tape over the speaker to dampen the sound.

 

 

 

3.)    Can the toy be used in more than one place?

Wiki Sticks provide a great non-messy art project that can travel anywhere, especially to restaurants!

Consider items such as crayons, write on boards, stickers, and small steno pads carried in a small bag for trips to restaurants, etc.  Toys like wood puzzles and magnet toys (animals, letters, etc.) can also be moved from room to room.  I have used magnet toys for many different activities as well. Remember, you can always use a cookie sheet to stick the magnets to if a metal surface isn’t always nearby.

 

 

 

 

4.)    Can the toy be used in more than one position?

Chalk drawing
Chalk provides hours of active, creative play on any outdoor surface

Play mats are great for tummy time but also for practicing side lying and for reaching up in supine.  Books can often be read in more than one position.  It is often a wonderful idea to encourage our children to read, write, and color on their tummies (strengthens neck and back muscles while providing shoulder and forearm stability) since most of their day is spent upright in sitting, standing, and playing!

 

 

 

5.)    Does the toy encourage activity and movement?

It’s never too young to play with balls!

As a pediatric physical therapist, I love toys that encourage movement.  Yet, if you think about it, you can make many toys encourage movement.  Think about using bean bags, puzzle pieces, blocks, or stickers as a means to encourage physical activity with your child.  Set up puzzle pieces at one end of the room and the puzzle board on another.  Have your child do a different animal walk to retrieve each puzzle piece!  Side walk chalk can be used to draw hopscotch boards, obstacle courses instead of simply drawing! Bean Bags serve as wonderful items to search for in a scavenger hunt!

Consider the “old school” toys for encouraging movement as well: balls, jump ropes, riding toys.  With movement, encourage use of the arms and legs to build strength in the large muscle groups but also to work on developing balance and coordination.  Jump ropes can be used as snakes to jump over and lines to walk along!

In the end, make sure that the toy is developmentally appropriate for your child to prevent frustration and encourage independence.  In therapy, we often work to find the “just right challenge” – making the activity challenging enough to foster growth but does not overwhelm them or cause frustration.  Choosing the right tools for play is so important.  Hopefully the checklist and ideas provided have helped you begin looking at toys in a new way and have allowed you to become more excited about the role of toys and play as your child moves, plays, and grows!

 

Disclaimer
The content on this website is based on Wendi’s personal and professional experience and general research. It is not meant for individual medical diagnosis or treatment. If you are concerned about your child, please consult with your primary physician and/or therapist.