• Deana Rosaia

Creating the Perfect Baby Play Space to Support Milestone Success

There are so many things we do not know as new parents and for me, in the baby development & pediatric physical therapy world there are a handful of things I hear all the time from parents regarding baby play.

  1. What is the best age to introduce (insert activity of the week)?

  2. What toys should I buy for my baby?

  3. How should I set up my floor to help my baby play and meet this milestones?

This is SO important and I wanted to break it down for you. Reality? Play space is EVERYTHING. The number one rule for getting babies to move is... are you listening?

Place the toy where you want them to move!

Sounds simple right? Well, it is! And once you start anticipating the next move for your child (hello parenthood! always gotta be one step ahead) you will easily translate these skills into each milestone adventure.

The goal is to make your play space and toys work FOR YOU and not against you!

We are going to take a few key milestones and break them down by looking at 4

simple aspects of play space to set you up for success.

Step 1: Identify the Perfect Play Surface

Step 2: Pick the Best Toy - for a list of ideas, check out my PDF download for all my favorite toys for development in the first 18 months

Step 3: Anticipate the End Result - success is knowing where you are going in life right?

Step 4: Move the Toy

Let's begin

Rolling! Back to belly

My personal favorite. Now, this is the first big "movement" that babies will do independently.

Step 1 - Perfect Play Surface: The floor - this one is REALLY EASY! Side note - if your baby is 2-4 months and struggling tolerating time down on the floor, my guess is they are spending too much time in containers!

Step 2 - Pick the Best Toy: You want to think VERY motivating and you have two options

  1. Toys they want to reach and grab that they can hold & manipulate (rattles, link toys, socks)

  2. Toys that are super fun (lights & music) that are larger and stationary that your child will move too. Both can be used in a similar way and it's nice to have variety

Step 3 - Anticipate the End Result: Your baby will get their hands and feet reaching to the middle, they will roll onto their sides and then they will reach or look up above their head to roll onto their belly

Step 4 - Move the Toy!

If you are using a manipulative toy, hold it into the center to get hands and feet up in the air moving to the middle. Then, move the toy to the side as they reach and roll to side lying. Once in side lying MOVE the toy at a 45 degree angle above their head! They need to see it, but reach up at an angle as they they rotate onto their bellies!

If you are using a larger stationary toy, place the toys at shoulder height on the side you want them to roll. Once side lying, move the toy up at that 45 degree angle

Next up - getting into kneeling!

This skill usually comes after a baby is 4 point crawling and you want them to start pulling up to stand at the couch or coffee table. But hold the phone, first, you baby needs to be comfortable getting up onto their knees - kneeling is the first step! So, let's break it down.

Step 1 - Perfect Play Surface: Think LOW surfaces. If your baby is crawling and wants to go vertical, you need to find low surfaces for them to use a bit more arm muscle in the beginning until they gain the coordination & strength to rely on their legs! Think about 6-8 inches high to start. My favorite low kneeling surfaces are: couch cushions pulled onto the floor, amazon boxes flipped over

Step 2 - Pick the Best Toy: I prefer larger more stationary toys for kneeling play. It is often way too easy for your baby to grab the toy of choice and plop themselves back down to the floor. A stationary toy with lots of buttons, lights, music or engaging textures will keep them working in the position for longer.

Step 3 - Anticipate the End Result - You want them to go from crawling or sitting up to kneeling at a low surface

Step 4 - Move the Toy! Put the toys UP on the low surface. I know, it sounds to simple to be true, but remember - your baby will move where your toys are! You might need to have the toy on the floor to tease and entice them, but once they approach the low surface while crawling, quickly move the toy up onto the surface.

Make sure you find the sweet spot - Close enough to still be visible in their line of site but far enough away where they cannot just reach up and play! They need to move!

One more?? Ok, let's look at cruising!

Step 1 - Perfect Play Surface: If your baby is getting pretty quick at the cruising game, you want to create variety and challenge to progress their balance. I love to make a "cruising circle" with furniture. This would include couches, coffee tables, kitchen chairs or anything of similar height that you can connect together for your baby to use. Bonus if you make a bit more of a square and surfaces. You can also set up parallel surfaces to practice transitions & really challenge that dynamic balance.

Step 2 - Pick the Best Toy: I find cruising works best when going after smaller manipulative toys or, full disclosure, snacks. I am a fan of the 'cruising for cheerios' method in my house. But regardless, think "pieces" of a puzzle, duplos, squigz or anything that you can easily move from one place to another

Step 3 - Anticipate the End Result - you want your baby to cruise along from point A to B, maybe transition to a different surface, walk around the circle from the inside, or walk a circle around the whole coffee table while working on negotiating corners!

Step 4 - Move the Toy!

Let's take parallel surfaces - make sure they are close enough where your baby can easily reach between. Start at the couch, move a toy to the coffee table. Once they have moved to the coffee table, back to the couch!

My other favorite trick is to get babies cruising around corners of tables - a huge balance skill. place cheerios or toys around the table to get them groovin' over those corners!

Now, you can take any skill, think 4 steps ahead and get your environment & play space working FOR YOU to help you baby make milestone progress. Cheers!

Drop your questions below!

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