Parents of future athletes, scientists, judges and corner-office executives, take note: An enriched play environment is critical to a baby’s development and teaches skills he will use later in life. Here are the top reasons to let ’em play.
At a play group at a friend’s house, 3-month-old Ben lies on his back while his mother blows bubbles for him. He does his best to follow with his eyes the different-size bubbles floating all around him. He squeals with glee each time he touches one. Seven-month-old Amy lies in her crib at home, sucking her big toe. She examines it up close and decides to try the other foot. One-year-old Trevor walks past his Mommy and Me classmates to the toy kitchen. He opens and closes the cabinets while his classmate, Daniel, plays with the refrigerator. They hardly seem to notice one another because they are so engrossed in their own activity.
Beginning in babyhood, play is inexorably linked to learning, socialization, development and even intellect. Research has found that the availability of play materials (like toys and games) is one of the most consistent predictors of intelligence. Playthings don’t have to be expensive or new and, ideally, shouldn’t be electronic because that means the toy is likely doing the work for the babies. Simple, inexpensive, “open-ended” playthings (items that babies can interact with any way they like) will do the trick just fine (see “Cheap Toys Do the Trick!”).
According to the groundbreaking book Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, “play is to early childhood what gas is to a car,” as it’s “the very fuel of every intellectual activity that our children engage in.” Here are the most important benefits of play: