Bored baby? The solution isn’t more toys…
As a young first time mother back in 2000, I felt quite clueless, and wanted the best for my little baby. One of the easiest ways, in my mind, to help my baby was to give her toys. I remember buying the biggest, flashiest educational toy out there. I set it up, only to find my 14 month old ignored it completely. In fact, she never even touched it. I would press buttons for her, imploring her to come and listen. I would sing along to the ABC it sang. I had a vested interest in this – I needed my child to play alone for 10 minutes so I could hang out the washing! But all in vain… If only I knew then what I know now.
Simple objects make active babies
The truth is, babies really need very little stimulation, because they are born hardwired to ‘find out’ about their world. They are little scientists, ready to explore, through play from birth, and it is the simple toys that make active babies. Babies don’t need to be activated by fancy toys and elaborate activity.
With their super marketing teams, big toy companies would have us believe our children’s development depends on the use of their toys. We see them everywhere! Despite this, babies all over the world are the same preferring the simplest objects that really activate their exploratory impulse to its fullest. As my hero Magda Gerber said, “Passive object, active child”. The other way around, sees an active object (battery operated, complicated) make a passive baby (baby presses button, waits for the toy to do the work). A baby wants to find out about the objects around them, but the baby is unable to find the true source of the action or sound in a battery operated toy. Being the scientists they are, the unfathomable toy no longer holds their attention, since the potential of these objects is limited.
A safe space
An important step to supporting your baby’s independent play, is to provide them with a completely 100% safe play space. This play environment means we don’t have to say, “no” too much and we can safely leave our baby or toddler in this space for a short period if we need to. We can relax knowing full well our baby is safe. We can also use gates to block unsafe areas. Remember, this is just for a short time. Gradually, as your child becomes more cognisant of rules and boundaries, we begin to strip these boundaries away.
Boredom is conditioned
Once your baby has a safe space to play place them in their play area. The next step is to simply wait. This was a word Magda Gerber used a lot. Before you pick up that toy and put it in her hand, before you prompt your child with a, “why don’t you play with” or pick up the teddy and make it talk, remember that our babies need to be the initiator to activate the toys. The more we make that first move, the more our baby is conditioned to rely on us! So wait, sit close by a little while and tell them you are there. Place a younger infant on their back with an object within reach and two or three other items out of reach. The older child needs a few baskets of objects that can be collected, dumped, stacked, rolled, placed in and out and experiment. The simple objects that you provide should never have a wrong way of using them. The possibilities are endless and your child will discover them.
Next we may find our baby getting stuck. Perhaps, the ball rolled under the sofa. Once again, wait. Let children face their struggle! Jumping in at the first squeak from our babies is conditioning them to learn they need us to fix everything. Perhaps they can’t get the ball, try leaving it there… Maybe the next day they will try again. It is ok to help, but be mindful of jumping in too fast.
Uninterrupted learning is best
While baby plays try not to interrupt. This will help develop your child’s attention span. What I do is wait for the child to make eye contact or pass me an object which is my cue to interact. The rest of the time, either I observe attentively, or I’m off doing my own thing and they are completely on their own.
Follow these pointers to support your baby to be the self-confident, self-learner they are meant to be. Provide a safe space, simple objects, wait for them to initiate play, trust them to solve struggles and don’t interrupt! Then sit back and enjoy the magic of your baby’s play and self discovery. Perhaps get a cuppa and put your feet up too!
The ideas are inspired by the works of Janet Lansbury www.janetlansbury.com, and Resources for Infant Educators.