So, what’s the perfect play experience for your baby?

I was talking to my mum at the weekend and she mentioned a doll’s house that she and my dad made for my sister and I when we were young. They spent many hours creating this house once we had been put to bed. Then, when Christmas came, we unwrapped the house, played with it for just a few minutes – and then turned to the sheet that had been covering the house and started playing with that.

We then built on that – we took shoeboxes and created our own playhouse. We played with our shoebox house for hours, while the big fancy house (with electric lights and everything!) sat un-played with.

I see the same thing happening on some Instagram and Facebook play pages. 

You know what I mean – it’s a beautifully set up play activity. Perhaps it’s some rice, dyed to three different colours and made into a farm with farm animals in the green fields, trees in the orchard and ducks swimming on the blue coloured rice. Or, it might be rice coloured blue and gold and poured into a tray in the shape of the beach and sea, shells set neatly on the side and all surrounded with starfish. The perfect play scenario for our little one. No doubt, in the background there are farm noises, or the sound of the sea being played to add to the effect!

Having created this masterpiece, we sit back and pride ourselves on doing such a good job, creating the perfect play environment for our child to explore. Lots of wonderful sensory stuff, all the correct colours all beautifully set out. We can tell ourselves what a great parent we are, and how lucky our baby is to have someone as focused on creating such amazing play environments for them.

Are these amazing play environments or not?

But, are they actually amazing? Or are they rather us playing and creating, sharing our outcomes with our child and then wondering why they don’t play with the thing we’ve created for any length of time? Would there be more play outcomes and better engagement if we worked with our child to create a play environment together? 

I ask this because one of the accounts I saw was of a “perfect play situation” that had been created by the child’s mum where she said something along the lines of, “I created this amazing farm, set out all the animals and the tractors, but my child just wanted to make sure that the tractors were safe (he’s really into playing with those at the moment) so he scooped those up and put them safely in the bucket.”

Had her child been encouraged to join in with creating the play environment, he would have been much more connected, engaged and invested in the game. His creativity would have been sparked.  He would have his own ideas about what should have been included and why… regardless of whether he could have articulated them or not. And, he probably would have been super happy to include his tractors in the game. No doubt, if that had been the case, he would have played for hours with the coloured rice, his tractors and farm animals. 

Why not include your baby in the creation process?

Of course, there’s a place for creating toys for our babies and children to play with, but what I wanted to point out was, why not include them in the creation process, no matter how young they are? Even the youngest of babies can be sat on the side in the kitchen in their chair and be talked to as you create a rattle or sensory bottle. You can tell them what you’re doing and why. You can ask them what they want to include and make it a conversation, even if their responses are just enthusiastic babbling. By doing that, you’re developing their language skills, building your bond with them, encouraging eye contact, helping them develop logical thinking as you explain the steps you are taking to create the toy, and although in the early days your baby may not fully understand what you are talking about and what you’re doing, they are absorbing all the learning you are exposing them to.  When they come to play with the toy you create, they will, in the end, be more invested and engaged in the toy (especially as they get older and can be more involved in the process). You see, for something to be considered ‘play’, according to the LEGO Foundation, the activity needs to include some of the following characteristics: it must be meaningful, joyful, socially interactive, actively engaging, and iterative. And by getting your child to be involved in the creation, you are weaving in more of these characteristics.

One thing though, especially as your baby gets older – you will have to give up your desire for the final outcome to look lovely!

“Tell me about your model!”

One of the most useful sentences I learned early on as a teacher working in nursery and throughout primary was, “Tell me about your picture/model/game/animation/etc.” You see, very often, when I looked at the creations that various children had laboured over, I had no idea what I was looking at – for all intents and purposes, what I was looking at was a complete mess! But to the child, it was a masterpiece that they could explain in detail for as long as I let them! It’s a sentence I offer you, as a new parent embarking on the journey of being involved in a child’s creativity.

The wonderful thing about all of this is that it takes the pressure off you! There is no longer a need to make amazing, photo-worthy play environments, but rather, it enables you to offer your child things to play with and encourage THEM to make the play out of what they’ve been given.  And if you fancy getting creative, involve them… and if the outcomes aren’t quite Instagram perfect, you can just use that simple sentence,

“Tell me about your creation!”

What this all does is show you that creating an activity shouldn’t be a load of work. For your baby, bump, or toddler, learning and play are the same thing – they are entwined together and they happen in the simplest of things. When you look at the activities on the Oliiki app, you’ll see over 1000 age-appropriate, SIMPLE activities… the complexity comes when you understand quite what your baby is gaining from the activity. By you understanding that, you can really enhance your baby’s learning, and help them reach their full potential. It’s in the understanding YOU get that enables YOU to help your baby go to the next level in their learning. The Oliiki app not only gives you these activities, but it also shows you what aspects of them to focus on, as well as helping you be much more invested in the activity. That’s the power of the Oliiki app and learning through play. It isn’t about the ‘perfect play experience’ at all, it’s about finding the learning your baby is gaining through the play they are doing.

That’s where the learning happens, that’s where you become empowered and that’s where the fun happens! It’s pretty magic, really! That, to me, IS the perfect play experience for your baby. X