Play is movement. Play is self-regulation, learning. Play is… life. In our last post we talked about looking at play with fresh eyes and figuring out the millions of things we put in one bag, and then call it ‘PLAY’. But for babies 3-6months, as much as play is a natural state of being, there is a need to set up conditions for it to happen. How can we help our babies play freely, and help ourselves enjoy it? Here is what we have learnt so far.
How can we facilitate this play?
A lot happens at this age (wow, this seems to be true for just about every age group once we start thinking about it), and for the child to play he needs certain conditions. Good news is – it’s not that difficult, it does not require specialized equipment, and anybody can do it. So, what do babies need to be able to play freely?
- Emotional security
- Quiet, peaceful environment where they can play, learn & discover
Since you could probably write a book on the tons of aspects of each of these points, let’s take one step at a time. Today, we will focus on the environment, and specifically – the playpens.
Only pictures show me that when I was little I was playing in a little playpen. I obviously can’t remember. What I can remember though is visiting friends of my parents who had a baby when I was about 6 or 7 years old. They had a wooden playpen, rectangular and just the right size for a baby that can’t move around too much yet. I always wanted to climb in it with the baby. In fact – I did. Because I liked the cosyness of it. I liked being away from the adults who bored me. I enjoyed just being in there, watching this little baby. In this small comfortable world of his. (Nadine)
Nowadays most parents think of playpens as of little prisons. Many refuse to buy them because they don’t want to place their little baby behind gates. And we say – it’s a matter of perspective.
A child does not know what a prison is. A child has no negative connotation of the bars around him with being locked. More importantly – if you use the playpen from early on it will become your child’s safe space. So he won’t necessarily feel “locked away“. As in Nadine’s case – he might actually feel safe and secure. Comfortable.
Try and think about it. You have those gates – preferably a few flexible ones to form a safe area that fits into your flat furnishings. Your baby has just been fed and changed. You have given him all your attention and had a wonderful time together. Now you need a coffee, maybe a snack or just a moment for yourself. So you put your baby into this safe play area that has a few toys in it. There is a chair nearby where you can sit down and relax. While your baby explores… well – his own body? The world around?
If something bothers him – you are there. You are not out of reach, not ignoring him. But you don’t have to constantly keep your eyes fixed on him – he is safe, his needs have been met. And he knows that. Because that’s the way it has been for a while now.
How does that sound?
- But why is a blanket on the floor not enough?
Take a moment and imagine this: You are lying on a mattress in the middle of a football stadium. You can barely make out the walls, everything seems endless. Could you feel safe? Could you focus on a book or any task without having the feeling of looking around, making sure everything is ok? It may sound a bit excessive, but considering the fact that distances are still a bit vague for little children, you might imagine what it feels like to lie in a room with no close borders around.
- When should I start using a playpen?
In the beginning the baby is usually close to you or in his cot or pram. But as soon as he starts moving around – may it just be rolling onto his side – he needs space to freely do that. The sofa or bed become dangerous because you never know, when he will roll over (and over) fort he first time. With flexible playpens you can build a small one for a start. Then extend it with the baby’s gross motor development.
- How long should I use the playpen?
When your child starts moving forward you may either extend the playpen even more or take it away. The latest moment to put it aside is when your baby starts walking. This is the time when the whole flat should become safe and secure because stopping your child from entering areas he physically could reach will just be an unnecessary core of frustration. For all of you.
We love to hear your thoughts!
Anna & Nadine