Play and Learning for Infants Play is serious business and play is the chief way that infants learn how to move, communicate, socialize and begin to understand their surroundings. Some of the first things a baby will learn are to react to touch, the sound of a caregivers voice and the sight of one’s face and the caregiver is also building trust by meeting the baby’s basic needs. Encouraging the infant through smiling, responding to his or her coos and gentle touch stimulates the senses and help the child to grow. Babies are born with certain programmed responses i.e. the rooting reflex, as survival technique. The need to have nutrition drives the rooting reflex and by gently touching the baby’s cheek one can elicit the response. By the time the child is three weeks old they will turn their fact to side that is touched not because of reflex but because it has been learned. They have learned that this is where the food is waiting. During the early weeks the baby tends to sleep a lot and over time becomes more alert and responsive to the care giver. It is important for the care giver to begin to respond to these periods of alertness as they are times when the baby is ready to learn and play. A quiet, alert and attentive baby is interested in learning about his or her surroundings. Signs that a child in over stimulated are squirming, kicking, flapping the arms or just fussing and when that occurs the child is not ready to participate in learning. Toys are used to help encourage a baby to learn. Introducing simple, colorful toys that appeal to the infant’s senses of seeing, hearing and touching can include rattles, soft toys, musical toys and unbreakable crib mirrors. Other items might be colorful mobiles with strong contrasts such as black and white and red, curves and symmetry help to develop the child’s vision and ability to focus on an object. Other activities might include: Swaying to the music, Singing to the infant and they don’t care if you can carry a tune or not but it is soothing to them, Smile, sticking out your tongue and other silly expressions gives the child something to focus on while in your arms or while changing a diaper, Shake a favorite rattle or other toy and allow the child to follow it and find it, Allow the child some tummy time to look around and see the world, never allow the child to get frustrated in these position or allow the child to sleep on their tummy, SIDS is best prevented by allowing the child to sleep on his or her back, and Talk to the infant; let them get to know you through voice, touch and smell. Games for Toddlers Toddlers learn by playing and they learn a lot from ages 1 to 3. A one year old might be a wobbly walker and a 3 year old might be able to stand on one foot or speak in short sentences either way they enjoy short, simple games. Games for toddlers need to be played with adults or other children but always with some adult assistance. Group games gives them the opportunity to become social beings, and while they most frequently play alongside other children rather than with them, they enjoy being around others their own age. Playing side by side or with another child gives the toddler the opportunity to start learning about sharing, taking turns and being respectful of others. Toddler games are chaotic at best and we use the term game loosely but they have a lot of energy and they want to explore and move. Rules need to be very simple. Circle games are a mainstay and it seems there is always room for a circle game. 4 Games with hand and body motions work well especially ones such as: Two Little Blackbirds Sitting on a Hill Ring around the Posey Duck, Duck Goose Old McDonald had a Farm The Hokey Pokey Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush If You’re Happy and You Know It Scheduling play time during the day is something that you and the children will look forward to on a daily basis and encompassing a wide range of activities makes for positive learning so along with the scheduled games should come some downtime. This is the when the child or the children can just be and play in an area in the classroom that attracts their interest. Some children like the little kitchen set ups and practice playing grownups, some like dolls, boys and girls, and treat them as siblings or as a best friend holding long conversations with them and some just want to look around. Conflicts are going to occur between children and as much as possible they need to work them out, sometimes duplicate toys helps, and providing a wide variety of activities helps to reduce jealously and helps to reduce the number of times Mary wants what Susie has, etc. Sit down with a toddler on a daily basis even if just for 10 minutes and let the child direct the action, interaction or lack thereof, sometimes it is enough just to have you sitting next to them while they play. Letting the children help clean up at the end of each day are great ideas and some of the toys might be a play vacuum cleaner, broom, mops shovels, dust rags and other items that mimic mom and dad and earn them praise and a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes the caregiver needs to let the child be ‘the boss’. Letting a child be the leader allows his or her own true interests shine through and helps to develop the child’s personality. Exposing children to different types of music such as marches helps the children to get some exercise on a rainy day and helps them to develop and appreciation for all kinds of music. Some of the most fun activities for children are those made with supplies one can find at home or already has on hand. Feely Fun Bag Gather up items from around the classroom: two buttons, two bottle caps, two cotton balls, two keys, etc. and place one on the table and one inside the bag. Have the child feel an object on the table and then without looking find it in the bag. Finger Painting Place a large dollop of finger paint in the center a large piece of paper and allow the child to use wax paper, straws, toilet paper or paper towel cardboard rolls and possibly vegetables to create their own wall art. Sand Play Place sand into a large container and provide various measuring spoons, cups, shovels, and other containers so that the child can spoon, scoop and pour to their hearts content. This is a great picnic table outside in the play yard project. Hint: one can also use dirt, rice or birdseed. Bean Bag Toss Using small bean bags and a large container have the children toss the bags into the container, after each throw have them take a step backward. 5 Sorting by Color Have each child pick out 5 toys and bring with him to the circle. Place assorted sheets of different colored construction paper on the floor and have the child place his toy on the matching color and discuss the colors i.e. Yellow truck on Yellow paper, etc. Alternatively children can sort rainbow goldfish or M & Ms into cupcake pans. Create a Story Gathering up old magazines and assist the child in cutting out 4 or 5 pictures, then have the child arrange the pictures to make a story. Tell the child to start at the beginning and to have an end to the story.