It is through playing that children learn many of the vital skills necessary for their overall development. Children will play with anything, so it is important that their playthings are safe and age appropriate.
Often children will benefit far more from playing with natural materials than from bright plastic toys. Babies particularly, as they learn through their senses, respond to many different textures.
Manufactured toys are designed with safety in mind, natural items are not and can be dangerous. For example, we would not recommend that a baby puts a fir cone in his mouth. Chains may trap little fingers, lavender bags may not be firmly stitched and the child could choke on escaping lavender etc. Ensure items are not small enough to choke on.
INDOOR PLAY FOR BABIES, TODDLERS AND YOUNG CHILDREN
Activities for babies:
• Treasure baskets. These are particularly beneficial for babies when they are able to sit up independently. Get a basket, and place different objects inside. Include a variety of textures e.g. a kitchen whisk, a wooden spoon, a rubber object, silk scarf, netting, fir cones, pumice stone, lavender bags, and small chains etc. Your baby will happily play for half an hour examining the different objects. Babies examine everything with their mouths first so check things are clean and safe. This type of play is excellent for their development of concepts.
• Interactive rhymes and songs. Songs like ‘Round and Round the Garden’, ‘Incy Wincy Spider’, ‘Wheels on the Bus’ and ‘Zoom, Zoom, Zoom’ encourage language and listening skills, as well as giving important one to one communication with your baby.
• Baby massage. This is a wonderful activity to carry out with your baby, and is particular good for their physical and emotional development.
• Playing with coloured, cooked pasta. Babies love this activity. Boil some pasta in coloured water until its soft. Allow to cool and let your baby play with it. It is a messy activity so the kitchen is probably the best place to play.
All of the above activities can be carried out using everyday household products and equipment.
• All activities should be carried out on the floor with the exception of the pasta, which can be carried out when your baby is strapped in its high chair.
• Wooden blocks are excellent additions to the treasure basket, but check there are no loose parts, and that they are clean.
• Before massaging oil into baby's skin, check that they do not have an allergic reaction by testing on a small area first.
Activities for Toddlers.
• Percussion: Toddlers love making a noise, and giving them a light saucepan and a safe wooden spoon will entertain them for a long time.
• Hand and Foot printing. Get a roll of wallpaper and place it on the kitchen floor. Mix up runny different coloured paint and let them make hand and foot prints all over it. Any art activity is very good for their creative skills, as well as their emotional development.
• Cold cooking. Hours of fun can be spent making delicious snacks in a completely safe environment. Good examples are: icing sugar mice, fruit kebabs, golden syrup crispies, decorated biscuits, celery and cream cheese boats, and different shaped sandwiches. A good activity is to get a plate, and make train sandwiches, using cucumber for the wheels, carrot batons as the track and cream cheese as smoke etc. It is a good way to get them to eat vegetables!
• There should be someone nearby to keep an eye on them when they are playing.
• Painting and cold cooking should be supervised at all times. Use non-toxic paint and safe foodstuffs. Any cutting should be with a blunt knife, or done by an adult.
• When cooking make sure that there is no dangerous equipment within their reach.
As with the activities for babies, all of the above can be carried out using equipment and products available in most homes. All are very good for their overall development and are also great fun!
Activities for 3 – 5 yr olds.
• Papier-mâché. Tear strips of newspaper and mix with some wallpaper paste. Blow up balloons. In layers (allowing each one to dry) stick the newspaper on the balloon. When the paper is dry it can be painted.
• Any art activities. Icing sugar painting, magic pictures (done by drawing a picture on sugar paper with a candle and then paint on top with dark coloured paint), bubble painting, butterfly painting, and modelling are very good for refining hand-eye co-ordination, developing their creative skills and allowing opportunities for free expression.
• Cooking. Children of this age love cooking. Making simple things like meringues, flap jacks, brownies, jam tarts and ginger bread men or houses give them endless satisfaction as well as something delicious to eat.
• Dressing up games. At this age children have incredible imaginations, and providing them with a few props such as a hat, scarf, shoes etc will enable them to become all sort of different people!
• Teddy bear tea parties. Another outlet for their vivid imaginations. They will make imaginary tea, feed imaginary teddies etc.
It is true to say that the over threes have a much more developed sense of danger, and have learnt through experience. However, it is important not to become complacent! They act before they think, which can lead to dangerous situations.
• Any cooking involving heat requires constant supervision.
• Make sure equipment used is clean and hygienic.
• Beware water. A child can drown very quickly in only a small amount of water
• Don't let them walk near stairs or other dangerous places in ill fitting dressing up shoes or long clothing
OUTDOOR PLAY SAFETY TIPS
Playing outside provides babies, toddlers and children with wonderful opportunities to explore and encourage all areas of their development.
Daily trips outside can improve children’s appetite, give them more energy and help them to sleep soundly at night. Babies really benefit from watching leaves move, seeing the different colours and hearing new sounds.
Because babies learn through their senses, and more particularly though natural objects, having the opportunity to touch and explore the many different textures available outside is very beneficial for their development. HOWEVER there are many safety factors to consider, as they are very vulnerable, and are unable to care for themselves.
Activities for babies:
• Place your baby on a blanket on the grass underneath a secure line of rope, placed well out of their reach, and then tie safe things such as scarves, streamers etc. on the rope so that the baby can watch them moving in the breeze.
• Make daisy chains and place them around your baby’s neck or on their head. Your baby will love pulling them and playing with them.
• Place your baby on a mat with a basket of different flower petals, leaves, twigs etc. Your baby will love playing with the different textures, and will enjoy the smells and the natural feel.
• Lay your baby on its tummy with flowers and leaves all around, and with some out of reach. This will encourage them to stretch and try to explore.
• Always ensure that your babies have sun block on, and that they are kept in the shade with their heads covered. This is vitally important because babies and children have such sensitive skin
• Supervision is essential at all times.
• Ensure that the flowers used are ‘safe’. Foxgloves, laburnum, poppies, lily-of-the-valley, lupines, rhubarb leaves and deadly nightshade are potential killers. Also beware berries!
• Watch out for wasps and mosquitoes.
A child’s intellectual development is greatly influenced by the environment in which he or she grows up. Outside there are a great variety of bright, beautiful and natural resources which they should be encouraged to explore, experience and enjoy. They are also now mobile so benefit hugely from climbing, running, riding on tricycles etc. REMEMBER they have NO sense of danger, so must be supervised at all times.
Activities for toddlers
• Develop their curiosity by allowing them to explore many different places such as the park, garden, beach and woods.
• Every toddler loves to hide and surprise an adult. Creating hiding places with blankets, sheets etc will provide them with hours of fun!
• Get them to create ‘their garden’. Use safe gardening tools; encourage them to play with the soil and fill and empty pots. Also provide them with safe bulbs and seeds to plant, particularly ones that grow quickly, such as watercress.
• Toddlers love all weathers! When raining they love splashing in puddles
• They love to climb. Outside climbing frames are excellent, and provide ample opportunities to help them to develop their balance and co-ordination.
• Always apply sun block in summer, even if the day seems cloudy.
• Ensure that all climbing frames and swings are firmly fixed to the ground and away from concrete surfaces.
• Make sure that there are no garden poisons left around. Toddlers do not develop a sense of what they can and cannot eat until they are about two or three and will happily eat plants, stones and drink weed killer!
• Always keep garden equipment locked away when not in use. Toddlers love nothing better than copying ‘grown ups’, and forks, spades and hoes can cause serious injury.
• BEWARE any water! Ponds and swimming pools are lethal, and should always be fenced in or covered up. Toddlers can easily drown in only 2 inches of water.
3-5 year olds
As children learn to move around independently, they approach objects and places that look appealing, intent on exploring them. This exploration is very important for their development. They will begin to understand different concepts such as heat and light, and with this knowledge comes an awareness of the environment.
Outside also offers them considerably more space in which to climb, run, walk and develop their strength and muscles. Research has shown that children who have good physical development grasp concepts more quickly later on.
Activities for 3.5yr olds.
• Create a miniature garden. These can be made in trays using many different plants and textures. Moss, stones, ferns etc can teach them much about plant life and encourage their early Maths and Science skills.
• Create a wormery! Ask the children to fill an old fish tank or something similar with alternate layers of sand, soil, moss, grass and twigs. Then go on a worm hunt. Children are fascinated by the paths created by worms.
• Make a bird cake. Using bread, cheese, bananas, nuts, and bacon rind mixed with peanut butter and melted fat will create an interesting and (for the birds) delicious cake!
• Set up an obstacle course. These can be made from boxes, ropes, and an old strawberry net and if available an old tyre. Encouraging them to hop, skip and jump between the obstacles is excellent for their physical development.
• Team games are beneficial for this age group as they encourage co-operation with their peers. However, supervision is essential as their social and emotional development is quite volatile and arguments can flare up very quickly. Games like ‘Grandma’s Steps’, ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf?’ and ‘Hide and Seek’ are enormously popular.
• Again the sun block! There are now very good ranges of protective swimwear available. These have a protection factor of 90, which blocks out 98% of UVA and UVB rays.
• Although they are much more aware of danger at this age, be careful with gardening equipment, lawn mowers etc, as they are very dangerous.
• With the bird cake make sure there are no children with nut allergies.
* Beware of water.
• Check equipment regularly. Their play at this age can be quite rough, so proper maintenance is necessary.