Advice Column, Baby, Pregnancy & Baby

Important stages of babies at play

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Babies make sense of the world around them through play. They experiment with new ideas, learn important social skills, and gain immense pleasure from just playing.  Playtime is fun, and offers little one’s time to develop and thrive.

Play is incredibly important in a little one’s life, as it assists in the development of fine and gross motor skills and builds emotional maturity and self-confidence for a baby to explore new things and new environments. There are different developments that parents can look out for that links to play and baby’s age and developmental progress. Lesego Mashishi-Matlala, Huggies® expert in occupational therapy, shares insights on playtime and development.

From birth to three months, this first stage of play is termed as unoccupied play.  It is when babies play alone without reference to anyone else, and start moving their arms and legs. They play with their fingers and toes, suck their thumbs and even sometimes suck their toes. This is when babies start discovering their own bodies. 

Their favourite playtime activity at this stage is often interacting with the hanging mobile over the cot as opposed to human contact, because of the motion or sounds the mobile makes.

The next stage of play is solitary play. This takes place when babies gain postural control and can sit unaided and start crawling. During this phase of development many parents will experience that mischievous silence when their baby is exploring the world around them. Solitary play is generally when babies are more intrigued by objects around them and learn the cause and effect of movement in relation to their environment. Babies become so engrossed with objects around them, that they have minimal interest in engaging with others. The development of crawling and walking are encouraged at this stage of play as it is at this time when babies have the desire to interact with objects near and far from them. 

The onlooker stage of play is often the most exciting for parents. This often commences at the age of one or two when babies observe while others play, and at most times start copying actions. They love clapping their hands, dancing and mimicking others. This form of play is the child’s first step into social development, and is when they watch and process social cues from others. It’s therefore a good time to introduce regular playdates or to consider a play-school during this time.

Between the ages of three and four, toddlers begin to engage in parallel play. This is a time when they will play with others, but usually remain engaged in a solitary activity that is parallel to what their peers are doing. It is a time when ego development commences, and when children build a strong sense of being individuals, separate from parents, siblings and playmates. It’s the ’me, mine, me, mine!’ phase, when children begin to understand the concept of ownership.

Playtime is the perfect time for baby and parents to connect. It is a time to watch them develop, explore and move which ultimately leads to your little one thriving.

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