Building the right skills through play

Dr. Katie Heathershaw, Fisher-Price Play IQ™ Expert & Paediatrician, explains how to ensure your baby's play is building the right skills.
Q) Once I’ve determined my baby’s play style, should I encourage them to “improve” in areas they’re not as strong in, or simply respect and nurture their strengths?
A) By taking the Fisher-Price Play IQ™ Quiz you can find out what your baby’s ‘Play IQ’ persona is and the play styles that will best fit their developmental profile right now. There is no one play style that is 'better' than another, for example, parents of 'Little Legends' don't need to be preferentially working on cognitive and social/emotional skills – these will develop alongside their already excellent gross motor skills. By the same token, parents of ‘The Crowd Favourite' don't necessarily need to be signing their little ones up for baby gym class (although they may love it and charm everyone in sight!). Remember, your baby is an individual and will develop at their own pace. Unstructured baby led play provides a wealth of learning opportunities, and by observing your baby closely you will come to understand their play preferences and gain invaluable insight into their world.

Q) Related to this, should I generally choose toys that are consistent with my baby’s style of play, or toys that are designed to develop the areas they’re not as strong in? Or both?

A) Toys should be chosen for their quality, durability and safety. Great toys also tend to be those that allow and encourage your little one to use their imagination. Of course different toys will be appropriate for different ages and developmental stages. The Fisher-Price Play IQ™ Quiz is not only a great way to determine your little one's play persona, you will also be given a personalised development report with expert advice indicating what milestones to look out for next and which activities, games and toys will help your little one to get there, all whilst having fun playing! Don't forget the importance of unstructured play, even when introducing games and toys, let your baby take the lead and see their imagination, problem solving and decision making in action!

Q) Which skills are particularly important to develop in my baby, and what are some examples of games and toys that develop them?
A) The most obvious milestones that enquiring relatives seem to focus on are the physical, or gross motor ones. The Fisher-Price Play IQ™ website provides examples of key physical milestones, to help you identity what your baby is already mastering and what’s still to come, so you can determine what games and toys are best suited to aid their development. These include:

  • Head turner – baby can now turn their head towards a sound and watches you speak (about three months)
  • Helping hand – baby may start to try walking with help (about 10 months)
  • Steady sit – baby can pull themselves up and sit securely (about 11 months)

FP Walker -to -Wagon -1A great toy to aid physical development for a baby from around 9 months is the Fisher- Price™ Walker to Wagon which encourages younger babies to sit and play, and when baby's ready to pull up, stand and walk, they will be supported and steady, while enjoying pushing along their colourful Lion friend making musical noises.
Social and emotional skills are equally important; some milestone examples from Fisher-Price Play IQ™ are:

  • All smiles – baby begins to smiles at people and coos (about two months) 
  • Name knower – baby recognises names of people and things (about seven months) 
  • Favourite sounds – baby begins to show preference for the different sounds they hear in language (about 10  months)

Of course, the best toy for social and emotional development is you! A tuned-in, observant and responsive caregiver, along with plenty of opportunity for unstructured, child-led play are the most important determinants of social and emotional development. Spend face to face time with your young baby, gently talking, smiling, singing and responding, moving on to turn-taking with older babies, then imaginative pretending with toddlers.
Cognitive skills, or developing their Cognitive Play IQ™, is about encouraging babies to touch, feel, listen and learn through play. Toys that inspire their natural curiosity and love of learning will help develop both baby’s intelligence and creativity. Milestone examples for this featured on Fisher-Price Play IQ™ are:

  • Curious baby - baby starts to recognise familiar faces and takes an interest in others (about four months)
  • Thoughtful gestures – baby uses deliberate gestures, like waving bye-bye or waving arms to say “Pick me up!” (about nine months)
  • The planner – baby can string together ideas to form a basic plan (approx. 13 – 18 months)

FP Puppy 1 295There is good evidence that reading to children from early infancy is important for later literacy, so try to incorporate sharing a book with your baby into your routine from early on. Talk to your baby, sing, play music – you are laying the foundation for great communication. Even if you sometimes feel like you are pointlessly chatting away, your baby will love it! Long before they understand the actual words, they understand the tone, and sentence patterns of your speech. A toy like Fisher-Price™ Laugh & Learn™ Smart Stages™ Puppy is a fun way to introduce lights, music and a cuddly puppy into your little one's play. This is an example of a toy that may encourage a number of Play IQ milestones, depending on where your little one is at. They may simply like the cuddly toy, and enjoy the 'cause and effect' when pushing on the various parts, whilst an older baby or toddler may also interact at a more advanced stage with the colours, vocabulary and different sound modalities.

Q) Should I spend a lot of time playing with my child and encouraging certain skills, or is it better to let them free play?
A) Free or unstructured play is really the best kind. That does not mean you are not important! What it does mean though is that play should be child led, and go at the child's own pace. You don't need to feel that play has to be hard work, or that you have to come up with novel and amazing ideas for play, games and activities in order for your little one to develop normally. Babies will develop through play with you just lovingly looking on sometimes, and joining in at other times. On other occasions you may provide some guidance, or point them towards an activity or toy. Some parents have no trouble at all finding their 'inner child', whilst others appreciate some ideas and suggestions of age appropriate activities or toys to introduce for their little one.

Q) Are there some toys that are designed to develop all the necessary skills at once, or is it preferable to have a variety of toys that develop separate skills?
A) A variety of toys will keep your little one's interest level up as well as developing different skills. Of course little children will often find the most unique ways to use toys to get even more developmental benefits from their play. Some toys like the Fisher-Price™ Laugh & Learn™ Smart Stages™ Puppy actively encourage different skills. Toys that may seem quite simple like building blocks can also develop a number of different skills, for example, cognitive skills like problem solving and planning (building a tower or bridge), social and emotional development (coping with a tower falling, turn taking if building with a parent), and physical development (reaching, grasping and manipulating). These skills will be tracking along nicely without you even really thinking about it!

Q) How can I keep tabs on my child’s progress to make sure they’re developing the right skills? Or should I not worry too much about it?
A) When monitoring your child's progress, you want to know that they are on track without becoming overly focused on reaching goals, which can cause undue anxiety. Your health nurse will consult with you and monitor your baby's development at certain key health visits. Childhood development is quite highly variable and there is a large range of normal for reaching developmental milestones. Take independent walking for example, which the Fisher-Price Play IQ™ milestone 'walk the walk' encompasses. The average age at which this is achieved is 13 months, but the normal range is anywhere from 9-18 months! Milestones, and the age at which they are reached, should be seen as a guide. Remember development is a process not a race! However, if you do have concerns about your little one's development, it is important to consult your health nurse, GP or paediatrician.

This article was published in association with Fisher Price.


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