4 Items You Already Own That Make Amazing Learning Toys for Babies

Here at The Everymom, we are big believers in a good #momhack. So you found something to make this wild ride with little ones run more smoothly? We’re into it. Bring us your simplifying, load-easing, streamlining ideas—and you will find one pack of grateful, relieved parents on the other end.

So imagine our delight when we discovered a host of ways to not only entertain babies, but also support their development with everyday items we already have on-hand. As Angela Fritz, a pediatric physical therapist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, told me, we already have everything babies need. “Babies are naturally inclined to pay attention to and be interested in their surroundings,” she said. “Anyone who has a little one can relate to them grabbing for keys, papers, and the cardboard box toys came in.”

Below, Fritz, along with developmental therapist Emily Patillo, arms us with four household items—and the knowledge we need to make them work as skill-building, developmentally expansive playthings.

 

1. A Blanket

“Something as simple as a muslin swaddling blanket can transform into a really useful tool for engaging with your child and allowing them to flex their growing skillset,” said Patillo. “Just like we encourage open-ended play with our toddlers, using a blanket in a multitude of ways can find caregivers practicing everything from motor to language skills.”

For ages 0-3 months: Fritz suggested rolling up a small blanket as a nest for baby to lie in, bringing their shoulders and hips toward the midline with their head in a neutral position. “This midline, flexed position helps them develop their core muscles, work on visual skills, and support their posture in an age-appropriate way,” she said.

For ages 3-6 months: Give baby a boost with a blanket rolled beneath their chest during tummy time to encourage them to look even higher during this critically important exercise. Once baby is pushing up on their own, Fritz shared that a strategically placed blanket roll can give them space for some impressive baby push-ups.

For ages 6-12 months: Patillo encouraged parents to create a blanket swing for baby, once they have mastered head control. With two grown-ups, lay a blanket on the ground, placing baby securely in the center. Pick up the corners and gently sway the blanket back and forth, keeping low to the ground. Patillo suggested singing a song together like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” and paying attention to your little one’s cues. By doing this, you will be supporting engagement, eye contact, and language development.

For ages 9-12 months: Fritz recommended blanket play for nudging baby onto their feet. Wrapping a blanket around your little one’s waist, create a soft belt. She said, if baby is working on standing, this method can offer support and challenge their stability. “If they are starting to take steps, helping them by holding onto the blanket belt instead of putting direct hands on them takes the challenge up a notch,” said Fritz.

 

Source: @sopharush

 

2. Water

When you and your baby need a change of pace from the usual playthings, it’s water to the rescue. Please keep in mind that water play must be fully supervised at all times, as it’s never safe to leave babies alone—even when the water is very shallow.

For 0-3 months: Water is very calming to babies as it replicates life in the womb. Patillo encouraged parents to allow little ones extra time in the bath to practice purposefully wiggling those deliciously chubby limbs. Help baby to build understanding by narrating their actions as they play.

For 3-6 months: Take tummy time to the next level by placing a blanket roll under baby’s chest for a gentle boost. With a shallow bowl of water in front of them, encourage baby to engage in this new sensory experience. Doing so may motivate them to stay in the tummy time position longer, which, Patillo noted, will support motor skills and bolster core stability.

For 6-9 months: Take this one to the bathtub, or lay down a towel to mop up the mess. With a shallow bin of water, drop in two or three floating objects. Watch baby bat and play, all the while narrating what’s happening for them. Simple lines like, “You grabbed the cup,” or “You’re splashing the duck,” will help strengthen your little one’s developing language skills.

For 9-12 months: We love a #momhack with longevity, and this bin-full of water delivers. Patillo advised parents to push baby to practice hand/eye coordination by allowing them to reach for and grasp objects floating by.

 

3. A Laundry Basket

Have you ever met a baby who hasn’t made a beeline for a pile of laundry? I haven’t. Lean into this affinity by tucking your little one safely inside for some supervised, skill-building play. Here’s how.

For ages 0-3 months: “When baby is playing on their side, place the textured part of the basket within their reach,” said Fritz. “Help them reach for and explore the sensation and texture that the rough basket offers!”

For 6-9 months: To support core stability and sitting balance, Fritz recommended a little basket play. “Sit your baby inside the basket and take them for a ride! Push or pull them around the room, swing them gently from side-to-side, or spin them around in the basket safely.” Attaching these actions to simple words like “wee!” and “go!” also allows for language development, offered Patillo.

For 9-12 months: No need to shell out the big bucks for a fancy wooden walker when you have a perfectly fine laundry basket around. Fritz offered a brilliant stand-in for little ones taking their first steps: fill a basket with books, she said, and encourage baby to nudge it along as they go.

 

Source: @alainakaz

 

4. Pots and Pans

It’s an age-old practice, stationing a baby in front of a set of pots and pans on the kitchen floor to buy yourself a few minutes of time. Below, the experts walk us through four ways to amp up this kitchen-play and build baby’s skills in the process.

For 0-3 months: Any mom of a newborn will tell you their tiny one gets their kicks from the simple things, like ceiling fans or curtains caught in a breeze. Fritz advised new parents to play this up, buffing a shiny silver pan to near perfection and allowing babies to gaze at passing shadows and reflections.

For 3-6 months: Ready for a baby workout? Fritz recommended dropping an object onto the pan and raising it higher and higher to lift baby’s gaze, helping to strengthen those developing muscles.

For 6-9 months: “A large saucepan is probably just the right size to help your baby learn to sit,” said Fritz. “With your baby in circle sit with legs out wide, scoot the pan between their legs and help prop their hands on top for stability.” For an extra challenge for babies who have mastered sitting alone, Fritz added that bringing in some cooking utensils for a makeshift drum will help strengthen bilateral skills and coordination.

For 9-12 months: Patillo noted that in-and-out play for babies in this group is all the rage as they fine-tune the movements of their hands and fingers. Fill a pot with objects like plastic cups and wooden spoons and soon you’ll find your little one hard at work. She noted around 9 months old, babies will drop things into the pot, and closer to 11 months, they will begin removing items as well. To make this play more meaningful, Patillo recommended incorporating simple, consistent sounds to support language development.

 

Read More: Our Favorite Toys to Encourage Pretend Play (And Why It Matters!)

 

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