Tag Archives: play


A baby looks at her reflection in a glass door


A favorite game for babies of all ages is playtime with a mirror.  The baby in the above photo sees her image in the glass door and decides to kiss the reflection.  Babies see another very little person when they look into the mirror, and we know babies love to see other babies.  Sometimes they look behind the mirror to try and find the person they see in the reflection since they do not understand that they are seeing their own reflection.  Mirrors are a novel toy for baby which holds an element of mystery and surprise.  “Where is this person and what will happen next?”


This sense of independence begins to evolve after the 7th month and is an important cognitive milestone and is often referred to as “self-recognition.”  It takes time for baby to learn that the mysterious person they see in the mirror is “me.”  Studies were conducted where researchers put rouge on the noses of babies to see if they would learn that the rouge on the nose of the baby in the mirror was also rouge on their nose. The researchers discovered that much of the self-recognition develops between the age of 1 and 2 years.


First, remember to practice baby safety.  Purchase a mirror that is unbreakable or hold baby in front of a secure wall-mounted mirror such as one in a bathroom above the sink.  For young babies you can find small mirror to put near her on the floor so that during tummy-time baby will lift he head and see the sparkle of her moving reflection.  Try sitting on the floor with baby on your lap or holding her in your arms in front of a large mirror so she can see her reflection and watch it move as she moves.  Much of the fun of mirror play occurs through movement, watching the person move as baby moves.  Or, watching mommy move in the mirror.  For older babies, use the mirror as a tool for teaching baby a few parts of the body such as “eyes,” “nose,” “ears,” “hair,” and “mouth.”  This developmental play is a game that can be played almost anywhere since a mirror can be found in most homes, airport bathrooms, and stores.



a toddler pulls the zipper on a purse

Toddler learns to pull a zipper

pincer grasp

For babies who have learned to use their pincer grasp, a fun game for them is to learn to pull a zipper.  The development of the pincer grasp is strengthened when baby needs to hold an item, such as a zipper pull, between her thumb and first finger as she moves it.  A zipper on a purse, a wallet, a cosmetic bag, or your jacket are fun for her to learn to manipulate.     Try holding the ends of the zipper for her at first, so she can pull the zipper and learn how it works.  Soon, on a smaller item such as a cosmetic bag or wallet, she can hold the item steady with one hand while unzipping the zipper with her other hand.  She may even need you to show her how to hold the zipper pull with her thumb and first index finger (pincer grasp). Look closely at her hand to observe how she is developing her fine motor skills.

Always closely supervise baby as she opens a purse or wallet that may contain items that are not baby-proof, such as coins, paperclips, pens, and other small or sharp objects.  You may want to find a purse and place interesting and baby-proofed items inside for her to discover when she successfully unzips the purse.  She will enjoy the process of discovering the same items are in the bag each time she opens it.  Another dimension of fun for speech development is added if you say “ZIP-ZIP-ZIP” or “ZIP-PER” each time you move the zipper pull to open or close the zipper.  They are intrigued by the sound of the word and will watch you say it each time.


baby with push-toy in grass

Explore the space in front.

Baby drags push-toy behind her when walking.

Explore the space behind.

toddler pushes toy near edges of a wall

Explore the edges of the space.

A baby plays on the grass at a park and bends her ankles more because of the uneven terrain.

Navigate the uneven terrain.


When babies play with push-toys it develops their awareness of the space immediately around them.  By focusing their attention on the moving object at the end of a stick they train their focus to be a bit further in front or behind them.  This skill is important for baby safety because it trains the child to notice when a stair in coming up in front of them or if a toy is lying in their path that might cause a fall.  This awareness is key for developing advanced skills later such as riding a bicycle.  When riding a bicycle a child must keep constant attention on the space in front of them (where they are going) as well as the space around them (so no one runs into them).  Baby develops a clearer sense of the space around them as they also discover the edges of the space.  The edges define the space.


Exploring space both inside the home and outside, at a park for example, develop strength in muscles as well as spatial awareness.  The uneven terrain at a park requires more movement of the joints and more strength in the muscles to navigate.  A gradual sloping hill, an edge of a sidewalk next to the grass, a stair, or a metal plate are examples of changes in the terrain that a baby may encounter in an outside play environment.  Each of these requires more demand on the muscles and joints to change the level (on a hill or a stair) or to move from one texture to another (sidewalk to grass).  The open space at a park invites baby to travel a lot and explore which is wonderful motor skill development.





Mind in the Making by Ellen Gallinsky


Ellen Galinsky, president and cofounder of the Families and Work Institute, is one of the most noted experts on child development today.  She has published more than 40 books, including the classics The Six Stages of Parenthood and Ask the Children:  The Breakthrough Study The Breakhthrough Study That Reveals How to Succeed at Work and Parenting.  She is a noted keynote speaker and recipient of numerous award and honorary degrees.  Her book Mind in the Making:  The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs is one of Galinsky’s most unique and valuable parenting books.  We highly recommend it for the parents of our Stellar Caterpillars.  For more info, visit mindinthemaking.org.


Galinsky examines how our interactions with children in conversation and play potentially cultivate seven valuable life skills.  The book is organized with each chapter devoted to one of these seven skills.  Tips for parents and specific activities for children are included in each chapter for play with children. These seven life skills are:

  1. Focus and Self-Control:  Includes paying attention, remembering rules, and maintaining self-control.  This is necessary for achieving goals in life.
  2. Perspective Taking:  Learning to figure out what other people are thinking and intending.  Children who learn this skill are less likely to engage in conflicts.
  3. Communicating:  More than just speaking and writing, communicating is the ability to know what one would like to express and then figuring out how to make that understood by others.
  4. Making Connections:  Sorting into categories what is the same, what is different, what is unusual, and then using this information.  This skill is at the core of creativity.
  5. Critical Thinking:  Learning to search for accurate or reliable information to guide decisions, beliefs, and actions.
  6. Taking On Challenges:  Some children learn to avoid challenges and others learn to take them on.  Accepting challenges and working with them is an important part of learning and development.
  7. Self-Directed, Engaged Learning:  We will not always have someone like a teacher to direct us in life.  As children learn to follow their own curiosity and learn they thrive in school and outside of school.


Through several examples Galinsky teaches the concept of guided play with children.  This means that parents can not be the boss and tell the child exactly what to do such as “put that block over here.”  Instead they must guide the child to see more clearly what is in front of them.  For example, if you explain to the child that a particular block in their hand does not fit because it is “too long,” then you can ask them to find a shorter one. They now learn the difference between short and long.  Focus on describing the experience rather than telling them what to do.  This is part of their learning process.

Mind in the Making:  The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs:  by Ellen Galinsky: (New York:  Harper Collins, 2010).


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One of the favorite games for babies is play dough.  In honor of National Play Doh Day on September 16, this post will look at the benefits of play dough for fine motor skill development.  Observe the baby in the above video from Jordan Lee’s you tube channel.  One of the easiest activities for a baby to do with the dough is to press his fingers into it.  This develops strength in the fingers and awareness of the changing depth of the dough.  Eventually you can teach baby to pull small pieces off of a larger piece of dough, developing finger dexterity.  Learning to press a cookie cutter or a stamp into the dough also teaches coordination and develops strength.  Babies also learn colors from playing with play dough.  Even the play dough containers can be instructional tools if you teach baby to put the dough in and take the dough out of the containers.  Play Doh commercial brand is sold in small canisters. For homemade play dough see if you can purchase some interestingly shaped and/or colored small containers for each color of dough.


Babies play with play dough usually after the age of one year old.  At this age they are rapidly developing their fine motor skills.  They also use their fine motor skills for picking up food when they are eating.  I recommend keeping the play dough off of the high chair tray.  That is a place for food and therefore the things placed here and picked up or squished with fingers usually go into the mouth.  Try playing with the play dough on a small table about the height of a coffee table.  Baby can stand and play with it or it can be placed on one of the small tables that comes with chairs for toddlers.  Show them with your fingers how to press into a small ball of dough and then let them explore the texture.  Keep your eyes on baby so he does not put a piece in his mouth!


There are an abundance of homemade play dough recipes available on the internet.  It is worthwhile to find one and make it for your baby.  The homemade version is made from simple edible ingredients such as flour and salt and should pose no problems if baby put the play dough in his mouth when you are not looking.  Simply google “best homemade play dough recipe” or search youtube if you prefer to watch someone make the recipe.  You can even find gluten free play dough recipes if you have a baby allergic to gluten.


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A friend of mine who is also a grandmother and nursery school teacher shared with me which of the songs for baby she felt brought the most emotion to the mothers.  “Your Are My Sunshine” does it every time.  “Each time a mother sings this song to her baby she can not help but feel so much love and joy for her beautiful child,” she explained.  I decided to find an easy to learn version of the song for the mothers of our stellar caterpillars to learn.  The above video from Cedrique Rababut’s youtube channel is a sweet version of the song that includes the lyrics for you to sing along.  The accompanying photo essay includes gorgeous nature shots, adorable animal pics, and visual images of love and affection.


You Are My Sunshine
My only sunshine.
You make me happy
When skies are grey.
You’ll never know, dear,
How much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away

The other night, dear,
As I lay sleeping
I dreamt I held you in my arms.
When I awoke, dear,
I was mistaken
So, I hung my head and cried.

You are my sunshine,
My only sunshine.
You make me happy
When skies are grey.
You’ll never know, dear,
How much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.