Respect the Play: How to Keep Little Ones Engaged

Play is a vital part of infancy and childhood. As adults we hear the word “play” and often think of time off from work to relax and have fun. Play, however, takes on a very different meaning for our little ones. Their play is their work. It is how they learn about their world, discover new ideas and concepts, figure out relationships and patterns that will lead to better understanding movement, language and math. When an infant or child is engaged in play, they are working to explore and learn about the world around them. They are constantly looking for new things to explore and new sensory experiences.

In this search for knowledge infants and children can often get bored and consequently fussy, irritable and more apt to act inappropriately. How can you spot boredom? Well, for one, process of elimination. If all of their basic needs have been met, and their normal play space isn’t keeping them occupied and engaged, boredom could very well be the culprit. Luckily for you, there is no need to run to Target for a new arsenal of toys.

Here are 8 Ways to Keep The Play Fresh and Little Ones Engaged:

1. A Different View: Simply changing where they are playing can open up a whole new world. Do they usually play in the living room? Put a blanket in the kitchen (away from stoves and other appliances) with some of their favorite toys and a few light plastic containers and bowls. If it’s a nice day try the deck or patio.


2. Rotate the Toys: This was a lifesaver as an early childhood teacher on a tight classroom budget. Take half of their toys and put them in storage. Every few weeks, switch out the toys they are playing with for the “new” toys. You’ll be amazed how excited they will be to see some of their tried and true favorites come back into the mix!

3. Make a What’s In It? Jar: Take an empty plastic container, like a snack canister, and turn it into a “What’s In It?” Jar. Put blocks, plastic toys, rattles, etc into the container. Let them explore by shaking it, hearing what’s inside, and then dumping it out to see what they find! This is a fun activity for little ones discovering object permanence, or the concept that even though you can’t see it it’s still there. If you have older kids as well this is a great way to show them how we can reuse and upcycle our recyclables. Have them help you count the number of objects in the container too!

4. Discovery Bottles: We don’t buy bottled water on a regular basis, but plastic bottles inevitably find their way into our house. Put them to good use by filling them with water and glitter or plastic confetti. Seal off the top with duct tape or a hot glue gun and let little ones see how the objects move in the water. For older kids, make an Ocean in A Bottle. Fill a plastic bottle 1/2 full with equal parts water and oil. Add blue food coloring. The blue water and oil separate, and when tilted back and forth make “waves”!

5. Go for a Walk Around the Neighborhood: Remember, “Baby Fun”. A walk around the neighborhood may seem boring to you, but for little ones it can be engaging. During the first year of life a baby is learning to categorize their world. They are learning that a daffodil is the same thing as a sunflower: they are both flowers, and that small dogs and big dogs are both dogs. Label all the things you see as you walk around your neighborhood, and let them explore where it’s safe.


6. Dance Party!: Singing and movement are great ways to activate many learning centers in baby’s brain and to teach patterning and language. As you dance with your little one label your movements, like up, down, sway, run, walk, etc. Have older siblings “show” baby how to jump, skip, twirl and dance to your favorite music.

7. Give Them Their Own “Drawers”: If baby is on the move, give them a special drawer where they can find new and fun things to play with. Need to cook dinner? Have a special baby drawer down low filled with light containers, baby spoons and dishes that they can pull out and play with. Add a few new things every now and then to keep them guessing! Keep a baby drawer in the living room as well to encourage safe exploration.

8. Water Play: With the nice weather approaching have some water play toys ready for outside fun. A shallow container with a small amount of water, some buckets, funnels, and cups will be more than enough to keep little ones at it for a while! Remember to never leave children unsupervised, especially around water!

Happy Playing!

2 thoughts on “Respect the Play: How to Keep Little Ones Engaged

  1. This is a great list! I need to try that discovery box, I’m sure my kids would get a kick out of it.

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