learning toys

March 11, 2010

Stroller Toys

Stroller toys come in many shapes and sizes; one common purpose of each though is getting our babies to pay attention to something while we adults get something done or saving us from a meltdown while in a place like the grocery store.

We see loud clackers, lots of music things, vibrating and distracting motion. Sure we want the quick fix but what is in it for the baby? How can we provide something that supports our babies’ development as well as gets us a few minutes of quiet and calm.

eebee stroller toy

eebee stroller toy

Well one idea is a peek-a-boo stroller toy. One of the most popular games for babies is peek-a-boo and there is a good reason for that. Babies are working on the concept that when things are hidden behind hands, a blanket or something that it has not completely disappeared from the world. They have not yet figured out that objects don’t disappear but are just hidden. Academics call this the concept of “object permanence” and it is why babies don’t tire of all the peek-a-boo variations. They need a large experience base to figure that objects don’t disappear from the world just because they are hidden.

Therefore our eebee stroller toy uses the popular vibrating mechanism found in a lot of stroller or hanging toys to shimmy eebee above and then behind a blanket. Babies love it so it meets the goal of engaging them with something and it enables our babies to work on that elusive concept of object permanence with each session. Again its about taking those everyday moments and creating some rich learning adventure out of it.

March 3, 2010

Stacking Toys

We are all familiar with the numerous types of stacking toys which usually have a spindle/pole on some base with graduated rings of different sizes. No doubt your baby has one or has used one somewhere like on a playdate or doctors office visit. It’s a classical developmental baby toy.

Typical Stacker

Typical Stacker

Well let’s use the stacking toy as an example of how you nurture all these important developmental objectives of Character (eg Humanity), Competences (eg Language Development), and Conceptual understanding (eg Physics of Rings & Poles). Most of the time when I see parents playing with their baby on one of these things, the baby puts on a small ring first and immediately mom says oh no the big one goes on first not that one. The parent wants to match the perfect graduated sizes from big to small just like they were packaged at the store. However that is not what it is about at all. Again it is all about mucking around and exploring with these objects and their classic play patterns. The eebee’s Adventures “stacker” actually gets rid of the spindle and makes the rings fit on just about anything (see photo below).

eebee Stacker

eebee Stacker

Sure you can stack them on the arms and legs of eebee just like you can a spindle but more importantly you can create a much more emotional experience by stacking them on your babies arms and legs, having your baby stack them on your arms and legs and stacking them and matching them with lots of objects around the room. For example, you can take the yellow ring and play an interactive matching game with your baby. You say can “This ring is ‘yellow’. What else is yellow in this room. Let’s find it and stack this yellow ring on it.”

Taking the focus away from the spindle and matching, fitting, stacking in lots of rich ways creates more numerous opportunities for Language development. Not only do you name the color “yellow” like in the example above you make yellow come alive more by “doing” yellow and having the baby actually find other yellow objects, fit the ring on the yellow object and feel the joy of having matched yellows or even saying yellow themselves if old enough. Babies learn by doing so naming exploring “yellow” exploring the object it was matched to “chair”, “bucket/pale” and all the other objects makes this classic stacking game a great language and vocabulary development tool.

You can also nurture character development such as Humanity during the play by emphasizing the emotional experience of the play. Watch the range of emotions that your baby expresses during the stacking experience from the excitement of matching colors to the frustration of not being able to get the ring onto the spindle or object. Label those emotions and show you understand what they are experiencing and can make the same expression to reflect back that you can feel that emotion with them.

Your babies are also learning a lot about the physics of solid objects rings with holes and poles and arms that fit those holes. We take for granted all these concepts that babies need to explore with hands on experience. So this simple play and exploration around a stacking toy can nurture and exercise character, competence, and concepts. This is how development works; it is paying attention and tuning into all these little everyday experiences that accumulate and add up into big important influences on our child’s development. It is the little things we do every day that count.

October 23, 2009

Ball Play & Exploration

Another classic open-ended material that Whitney loves to explore is balls – - or really anything that rolls. We have all seen our babies fascinated by touching a ball and it taking off to the other side of the room—just batting at them creates dramatic effects (see video at RaisingWhit.com or http://bit.ly/26sGce). Once Whitney could better control her hand movement and ability to grasp and manipulate a ball, she explored bouncing it and making noises with it  (http://bit.ly/1b3him). Once toddling she began to toss it and pronounce “ball” (http://bit.ly/1SuU1t) and eventually she started kicking and throwing.

Again while our babies are mastering the world of balls there is lots happening in their learning and development:

During infancy, babies love just batting balls like they bat at blocks except now there is a big difference in what effects their actions have. Unlike a cube that slides when pushed, a ball rolls.  It moves in a continuous motion for a greater distance, often seeming to be magically alive! The dynamics of moving balls, once learned, will help your child make better predictions of effects and learn the physics of form. The ball also provides unparalleled opportunities for forming a social bond between two people who sit at a distance but feel connected by rolling a ball back and forth.  The distance confirms their separateness; the exchange of rolling confirms their togetherness.  And their turn taking is a precursor to the rules of dialogue and game playing and the concepts of inter-connectedness and fairness.

As toddlers get more sophisticated with their ball explorations they discover that any object can be dropped, but only balls can bounce and roll. The focus for your toddler will most likely be the motion of the ball. A ball gradually rolls to a stop, at first lively, then motionless.  The child eventually learns that some motions are autonomous (a pet hamster) and other motions are indirect (caused by an external action such as a push or toss).  They learn that balls on ramps do not need to be pushed, only released, yet are not alive, and don’t go around obstacles.  By playing with balls and ramps, children learn the subtle differences between the living and the physical worlds.

By two years old, your child will eventually learn the structure of action, that more tilt of a ramp means faster ball speed down (a direct functional relation- MORE tilt yields MORE speed) or inverse relation- more tilt means less distance needed up the ramp to get the ball moving quickly.  Your child will also learn to read space as a symbol of what has not yet happened, but will.  A long drop from a high position means the ball will bounce high.

So take advantage of all this rich exploration ball play affords. Watch for cues from your child that invite you to play. See what ball-action delights your child– the roll across the floor, the drop off the edge of a table, the movement only one way down an incline—and repeat that action yourself. Your response can be slightly slower and more deliberate to emphasize the cause and the effect.  After the play proceeds a few rounds, make a slight variation to see if your child picks up on new variations you can introduce, such as tilting the ramp less to make the ball roll more slowly or making a gap between planks to make the ball drop through. Balls and ramps provide children with a natural laboratory for science and physics – cause and effect, conditional causes, and how to increase or diminish an effect. Be their scientific assistant that helps create and reflect upon the causes and results of their experimentation. To see a host of ideas, eebee’s adventures has a great ball play adventure in its Exploring Real Stuff DVD currently available in stores like giggle or at www.eebee.com.