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Play is a crucial part of early development.

Baby Play: Why Play Matters in Early Years

Play may seem like a simple activity, yet it is essential to a child’s development and learning. Through play, children learn naturally and happily while they explore, imagine, create, and laugh.

Playful activities in early childhood benefit the child’s development across all domains, which is why the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights recognized play as a fundamental child’s right.

Here’s how different aspects of play may benefit your baby and why you should encourage it.

Newborn Play

If you observe your baby, you’ll notice that they engage in simple play from the earliest days. Newborns enjoy exploring different sounds, shapes, textures, and colors. Four-month-old babies start showing interest in playing with other people. They may begin to copy facial expressions and movements such as smiling or frowning.

Everyday experiences boost your newborn’s brain development. The young brain develops and grows connections rapidly through sensory stimulation – while your baby sees, hears, and touches things around them.

During the first months of life, you will notice your child responding to the stimuli from their environment. They will turn their head toward the source of the sound or touch.

Musical toys, crib mobiles, rattles, and activity mats are great tools to enhance the newborn’s emerging skills such as:

  • Sensory development
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Cognitive skills
  • Language
  • Senses
  • Self-expression
  • Imagination

Sensory Play

Young children learn about the world around them by using their senses: seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and tasting. Sensory play includes various activities that stimulate the child’s senses, and as such, it is one of the essential educational tools from a very early age.

Sensory activities promote creativity and imagination, encourage curiosity and problem-solving skills. Through sensory play, babies practice their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Also, sensory play enhances a child’s social-emotional skills, nurtures language development, and boosts self-esteem.

Sensory play promotes the growth of neural connections in your child’s brain pathways, enhancing brain plasticity and flexibility – the qualities crucial for cognitive and language development and gross motor skills.

Manipulative Play

Babies learn and develop through hands-on experiences, exploring everyday objects and using their hands and feet to manipulate them.

Best manipulative toys for babies involve building blocks and bricks, art and craft items (small items are allowed as long as you continually supervise your child’s play), shape sorters, dolls, etc.

Manipulative play (also known as functional play) supports young kids’ development in many ways. It enhances hand-eye coordination, improves visual discrimination, and boosts creativity. Also, manipulative toys can foster color and shape recognition and discrimination, improve fine motor skills, and encourage classification and pattern recognition. This form of play can improve your child’s attention span and boost their problem-solving skills.

Summary

Play provides countless opportunities for hands-on experiences that help kids learn about the world around them and develop their cognitive, language, and motor skills. Free, unstructured play allows a child to explore various social roles, learn about rules, and develop crucial social and emotional skills.

Independent play promotes a sense of self-worth and confidence by allowing children to explore their abilities and feel good about themselves.

Encouraging your baby to play and explore is extremelly beneficial for their development and overal well-being.