Cut the Clutter
Stuff. We love it. We loathe it. We buy it. We trash it.
When baby arrives, stuff has a way of accumulating like never before. Expecting parents place an average of 121 items in their baby's registry before she is even born. As she grows, the amount of baby gear, toys, and clothes tends to grow just as quickly. While baby certainly needs the basics—a place to sleep safely, a car seat, stroller, clothes, baby carrier—so much of what is marketed toward new parents is just unnecessary. The messaging is that baby needs all of this stuff to be entertained and to meet those all-important developmental milestones.
The truth is that giving baby #allofthethings doesn't really make her any smarter or happier. It just takes a little creativity and some common household items to keep her entertained and learning. Finding new ways to play with what you already have makes for great parent-baby bonding time. It also helps to cut the clutter in your home, and it keeps toys—many of which are made from plastic—out of the landfill. Here are a few simple, no-toys-required activities to try with your little one at home:
Soapy Finger Painting
Rub a gentle foaming wash or soap bar on baby's hand, allowing the suds to build on his fingertips. Place a piece of paper in front of baby and encourage him to use his fingers to create a picture on it. For added fun, parents can join in!
This activity integrates creative play with a tactile sensory experience, while building fine motor skills by using fingers to paint. Altogether, baby is exercising skills that promote language, socialization, and learning.
Dab a bit of essential oil on a dry baby wipe and let baby smell the oil. Pretend the wipe is a bird flying in the air. Every few seconds, land the bird on baby and name the body part where it landed: “That little birdie landed on your tummy!”
This activity engages baby's visuospatial skills and stimulates her sense of touch and smell. It can also help her learn how to integrate information from different cognitive networks and sensory systems to anticipate a response.
Pick up a small object that can dangle—a piece of jewelry or a thick piece of ribbon works well—and hold it over baby’s head as if it is a bird flying. Depending on baby’s age, encourage him to reach for the “bird,” or, more simply, encourage him to track the bird with his eyes. Narrate what the bird is doing as you engage in this exercise.
This activity helps strengthen visual-motor coordination. Not only is visual-motor coordination important as baby learns to walk and draw, but it also underlies aspects of social health. Developing this skill can help baby connect and empathize with others as he gets older.
Grab baby’s favorite noise maker—a rattle or maraca work well—and lie her down on her belly or back. Without allowing baby to see the noisemaker, give it a gentle shake. Watch her shift her head in the direction of the noise. Be playful and encourage her efforts as you repeat this exercise with the noisemaker in different spots.
This activity enriches baby’s sensory experience while exercising motor skills. It will help her attune and respond to her everyday environment. In addition, as you engage in this playful activity, you are helping baby learn to anticipate events in the future, which is essential for problem solving and critical thinking later on.
Laundry Ball Toss
Sit on the floor facing baby. Show him a laundry ball—we recommend our own 100% wool laundry balls, of course!—and highlight its shape and texture. Gently roll the ball toward baby, and encourage him to roll it back to you. As baby gets older, move further away to add more of a challenge. Eventually, try tossing the laundry ball to one another.
This exercise is one of baby's first conversation activities. The back-and-forth action fosters social interaction while also aiding in the development of visual-motor coordination. This activity can be easily adapted to suit advances in baby's coordination and he grows.
Reuse a medium or large empty box. Open one or both ends. Provide baby with an array of nontoxic markers or paints—look for products with natural pigments that are water-based, fragrance-free, and VOC-free. Encourage her to decorate her new play space. Discuss the colors and shapes she has created, and ask if you can leave your own mark in her art cave.
This activity works best for toddlers who have begun scribbling and doodling already. In addition to being a creative outlet, it also helps baby refine her visual-motor coordination and express her emotions.