One of the motherly dilemmas I faced when Sophie turned 7 months old and started expressing a lot more interest in her surroundings was .. what toys to get her.
So before I actually gave birth to her, I had all these grand ideas about hand-felting toys for her (what on earth was I thinking? I don’t even have time to shave my legs) and images of myself reading aloud to her from my favourite Jane Austen books while she listened, rapt.
Of course these stayed fantasies.
Before I continue, I’d like to qualify that
- Every baby is different and I’m just speaking from my own experience. What works for Sophie-doll and me might not work for you, but the best way to know what your child needs is by trusting your own mother’s intuition about what stimulates them.
- I am not a baby expert. I am just a control freak.
Okay with that out of the way, here’s how I decided what toys to get for Sophie Rose.
- First off, my husband and I were not keen to buy her big, plastic toys. We already bought the Fisher Price Rainforest Jumperoo and after using it happily for a month, Sophie decided she hated it. That’s over $200 down the drain. So we decided that we would not buy any large contraption that would make our shoebox flat look even tinier than it already is.
- Toys which would last – We were keen to buy toys which would stimulate and entertain for at least the span of 1 year. We did not see the point in spending money on toys which she would discard quickly or grow out of in a matter of weeks.
- To try as much as possible to “create” our own toys and learning tools out of things we already had.
Right, so I went to read up about good learning toys online and what a 7-8 month old should be playing with in order to help them develop better mentally and physically, as well as how to encourage independent play. And of course, I emerged from my dalliance with Google more confused than ever. So I just decided to trust my gut when buying toys, based on what I know of my daughter.
- Driven by textures and sensory experiences. She enjoys feeling new fabrics, crushing foil, rubbing flannel against her face and will taste everything before deciding if it’s edible.
- She is driven by sound – She enjoys all kinds of music and will get bored quickly if we repeat the same rhymes to her. Instead, she likes to create her own music using whatever we give her and delights in shaking objects to see what odd sounds they may produce.
- She loves colors and “opening” things.
She is not:
- Interested in movement, crawling or moving toys. So little push cars, trucks, or anything with wheels does not interest her at all. She won’t even give them the time of the day.
- She is not attached to toys or blankies. She does like to hug her bunnies to sleep, but is completely fine without them and will ditch them in a second if she sees something more interesting. So we weren’t going to get her any more plushies or soft toys.
- Not interested in electronic gadgets or mirrors. She is not interested in our Iphones, or Ipads or even television shows. So electronic toys are also out for her. She just slams them around and gets bored after a while. I see this as a good thing, because I am that mother who will succumb and put baby tv on my Ipad if it will let me get another 15 minutes of sleep.
So here are some of our learning tools.
We keep Sophie’s “Happy Play” area outside in the living room so we can watch her at play while we work and eat. We try not to turn on the television when she is at play so she won’t get distracted. We use a nice thick LG Hausys Pony Play Mat which may be too small for crawlers but as she currently only wants to sit up and play, it’s good enough for us 🙂 When “decorating” we just used whatever we had at home – some baby bunting, big comfy cushions so she won’t hurt herself is she falls backward, and light, clean bright pastel colors.
We buy books, but choose them very carefully. We avoid books with slightly garish illustrations like “Winx Club” books, or “Disney Princess” books because their content is often terrible and there’s just too much going on on every page.
Those we read to her now are hardcover board books which are not too big, so she can experience trying to hold, open, close and flip the book without accidentally tearing the pages. Princess and the Pea is currently her favourite as it’s just the right size and has beautifully shaded and colored illustrations. She never gets sick of it, along with her Guess How Much I Love You book.
Another favourite are cloth books like Each Peach Pear Plum, which are made from fabric and nice for cuddling. They have wonderful hand-drawn illustrations of nature.
We also have Jelly Cat Pet Tails and Animal Tails books which are great for sensory development – they have many different “tails” sticking out which she loves to bite, suck, chew and twist between her fingers. The entire book is made of crinkly cloth material that rustles and crackles when crushed for added “smooshy” enjoyment.
At 7 going on 8 months, we feel that there is a need to develop a culture of bedtime reading and daytime story telling because it’s so important to cultivate a love for books – I think the saddest thing for a child is to have no sense of wonder and imagination – and books gave me that. It’s something that K didn’t do when he was growing up, and while he likes to say I live in my head, I like it! I want books to be a huge part of Sophie’s life whenever she needs to find dreams, hope or even escape.
We often make up stories when reading halfway through the book, just to spice things up a little >.< It’s so much fun! (E.g. And so the Queen put a stalk of boiled broccoli under the layers of mattresses. The smell, of course, was unbearable. The Prince thought that the Princess may have had a bad case of the gas because broccoli will do that to you, Sophie)
I have the entire Roald Dahl collection which I hope to introduce to her when she’s older but of course, we are sticking to The Hungry Caterpillar for now 🙂
My parents were big on reading and also music. I started at Yamaha when I was about 3 or 4 years old and then when I was in Kinderland, we had a full KinderMusic programme. I still remember the songs from way back when and pounding out the tunes on my tiny toddler-sized organ! I still hum “We’re going to the Zoo, Zoo, Zoo” in the car to Sophie when we are heading out because that’s what my Mom used to do 🙂
Of course our music influences were also quite varied thanks to my Dad who would have us dancing around and jumping on sofas every weekend to full Bee Gees, Elton John and Eagles Concerts and then later jazz standards by Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and the more contemporary Laura Fygi and Michael Franks – but you know music sticks. Music is an amazing way of remember things and bringing you right back in time to that moment you first heard that catchy melody and you see yourself bouncing with your baby brother on the couch while your Dad played “aeroplanes” with your even babier brother.
So yes, I was merely following family tradition when we bought back a baby piano with about 1 and 1/2 octaves for Sophie. I was really worried she wouldn’t like it – it wasn’t cheap and K was HIGHLY skeptical that she would show any interest.
It’s probably the best toy we’ve got, ever. Sophie-doll can bang away at the keys, sometimes pressing single keys with her fingers for up to 20 minutes. She runs her fingers up and down the white keys and tests out the minor blacks, and after banging out a self-composed concerto she always adorably turns to look at us for approval (which we of course give, enthusiastically).
I am definitely not deluded into thinking she is a music prodigy – I just love watching her enjoy sound, melody and tune. It’s such a huge part of enjoying life!
We also have a percussion set with a tambourine, maracas and a triangle. I keep the triangle away because the metal parts are quite sharp but occasionally I will put her in my lap and we’ll shake the maracas and tambourine to the beat so her body can slowly start to understand rhythmn and beat.
Yes, the best things in life are free – including the beautiful budding friendship that’s begun between my two wonderful “children”.
Sophie has always loved Benjy, and he’s starting to come around and treat her like a real part of the family. 🙂 He’ll come and sit with us on the mat during story time or music time, and she’ll bury her fingers in his fur and giggle. You might ask, how is this learning?
Well, its learning to have compassion towards animals and accepting them as family. She’s encouraged to interact and share – she gives her leftovers to him during breakfast (we are getting there), and he learns to be careful and not step on her when we all co-sleep in the morning. I hope that he will be a comforter for Sophie and also a companion. As a result, she is fearless when it comes to animals and does not take fright or scream when a dog barks loudly at her in public.
Good Alphabet Blocks
Some parents are already using flashcards, but to be honest, I have no patience for flashcards because I am personally totally bored by them. I’ll probably try again when she’s older or if she shows some interest. Right now, though, my focus is on helping her improve her perception skills – opening and closing things, stacking and knocking down, lifting up and looking under, etc. Just some basic motor skills which will encourage her to explore more on her own instead of assuming everything is one dimensional – a sense of curiousity, if you must!
So far she’s only been interested in knocking our towers down but that’s a start! We got these amazing Elemento Sensory Blocks which come in a whole rainbow of colors and shapes. They have numbers, animals and different textures “embossed” into them. They are also safe to be used in the bath and for baby to chew on them – this is a great example of a multi-purpose baby product! Suitable for ages 6-36 months, too! As she grows older she’ll start trying to build interesting structures and learning about balance (at least that’s what I tell myself 🙂 But all in good time!)
Most recently, we bought her a baby kitchen set. The box says ages 3 and up, but really, I think she’s already old enough to be able to enjoy it – once I’d set it up she was attacking it with gusto – “breaking” the eggs in half, opening and closing the oven door, twisting the hob knobs and putting things into her mixing bowl.
Of course, doesn’t understand the concept of “cooking” yet but I thought this would be a great way to help her start learning fine motor skills, too! All that’s needed is close supervision to make sure she doesn’t put small objects into her mouth – I’ve removed all small parts so that there is no choking hazard. I was so proud when I handed her the “spoon” and she immediately dipped it into the bowl between her thighs and pretended to “scoop” and feed herself! A glutton after my own heart!
At the end of the day, toys and learning are everywhere! We hope to start bringing her out to play in parks and on the grass when she can walk or crawl better – right now we take her for weekly walks at ECP where she and Benjy can meet new people, enjoy the sea breeze on her toes and cheeks and have some fresh air.
And the truth is, anything can be a toy! We made her a rain stick after we saw one at our Mummy friend’s house (thank you Lynn and Jas) and that cost us almost nothing.
Crinkly aluminium foil, bubble wrap (supervised, please) and even clothes pegs can be learning tools when used properly.
Here she is with her cape. Just minutes after we put it on she was trying to “wrap” and “unwrap” herself like a baby sushi roll and playing Peekaboo with me!
No cape? No problem! Blankets will do too!
But most importantly, play and learning time should always be fun for your baby, just like meals! I never push Sophie to continue playing more if she gets annoyed or frustrated because I don’t believe in letting her associate meal and learning time with negative emotions and inhibit her learning.
It helps for us to have a fixed time every morning (when they are the most alert and happy in the morning sun) where we run through some standard games and activities with them so they have a routine. I take a while to introduce new toys, or new concepts so that it’s not all too overwhelming for her.
I turn on some soothing music (some Classical, some Jazz) and diffuse some calming Lavender and I find that it helps create a really good learning environment. 🙂
We also try to go on play dates where Mummies can take a break (kind of) and the babies learn to interact with each other. It does make looking after and entertaining them much less stressful and for time to pass a little faster. 🙂 They also seem to be challenged by each other and it’s so cute to watch them wrangle for toys and food!
Well that’s it for our experience so far! Hope it helps those of you who are still in two minds over how to help stimulate your baby – if this crazy kiasu first-time Mama can learn to stop worrying and just play with baby at her own pace, you can definitely do it too!
Libby and Sophie Rose