Ask the grumpies: How to play with little kids

Leah asks:

How do you play with your kids when little? Anything I should be doing, or is interaction of any type sufficient?

Short answer:  Any type of (positive) interaction is sufficient.

Longer answer:  The books mostly say to do what I do naturally, probably because my mom was trained as a head start teacher before I came along.  The following will speed things up in the areas you focus on, but so long as you’re not leaving the baby alone in a darkened room, they will pick things up just from experiencing the world and focusing in one area may slow down another.  Basically they’re sponges so it’s all ok.

Talk to your baby even when ze can’t talk back.  Pause for responses as if you’re having a conversation.  Start with baby signs.  Narrate what you’re doing.  Make eye contact.  Create rituals together: these are soothing to babies, kids, and grownups!  Maybe there’s a certain game you play or a song you sing.  But don’t get rigidly attached to the rituals.  Say silly things, sing and dance.

Tummy time!

You don’t have to treat your baby like a delicate flower– babies are surprisingly sturdy.  If you want an earlier walker, carry your baby against you in a sling rather than in a cradle carry or a stroller.  Avoid jumpies, walkers, bouncers, or anything that allows movement without a person actually walking.  Spot your baby while ze practices standing or leaning on things, but don’t feel like you have to give 100% support.  (If you don’t want an early walker, don’t worry about this stuff.)  Carrying baby in a sling while you go through life will also help develop their vestibular system when you bend, twist, tilt, crouch, etc.

If you want great small motor skills, provide lots of things to practice small motor skills on.

If you want an early reader, read a LOT and trace your finger under the words you’re reading.  Babies (and dolphins!) can also sight read from flash-cards, which is rather remarkable, but I’m not convinced that’s actually a useful skill.

If you want an early counter, include counting in your day-to-day activities.  Count swing pushes.  Count baby lifts.  Count fingers and toes and cheerios.

If you want an early pottier, read The Diaper Free Baby and introduce the potty now.  Whenever now is.  Get in tune with your child’s peeing and pooing habits and get out of the diaper and over a potty during those times.

Maybe ask your kid to tell you a story about what their toys are doing.  Say “wheeeeee”  and “once upon a time” a lot.  Show them how to make goggles with their fingers.  Let them entertain themselves [with appropriate supervision].  Take ’em to the park and let ’em loose.  Get a dog [Ed: ??? NO DO NOT!!  This suggestion was quite obviously placed by the one of us without kids.] and let them tire each other out [ed:  you can see that this suggestion is not unlike the “have another baby to tire the first one out” suggestion].

Grumpy Nation:  How do you play with babies and toddlers and little kids?

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: . 44 Comments »

44 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How to play with little kids”

  1. Leah Says:

    I think I left this comment in a moment of desperation! The transition to having our little one home full-time when the school year ended was rough. But we did figure it out, especially with googling “stay at home mom of toddler tips” and such. The first few days were just us playing with her on the floor all the time and getting worn out from so much direct interaction. Plus, she didn’t nap because her routine was all different. She starts back at “school” in two weeks, and now I’m pretty sad I won’t get to hang out with her awesome self all day long.

    What did work was to set up a routine that included getting out. We hit up story time regularly, did sensory activities (playing with flour was a big hit), traded off so neither of us got exhausted, and went for a LOT of walks. As in, miles of walking. Recently, swim lessons and biking have put some good routine in, and we’ve been to three state parks in the past week. Little one loves the hiking backpack.

    We did do the moby/ergo thing (not a sling but baby wearing), and we still have an average age walker (and a late crawler), and that’s fine with us. We love the baby carrier for the ease of movement and napping potential.

    I set up a bit of a toy rotation, and that helped too with playing. I also made some toys for something different to do. Empty kleenex box (for putting stuff into and out of) was a bit hit. I also tied together a string of bandanas and stuffed them into an empty container. Even after many times of play, she’s still amazed by how much she can pull out.

    We learned songs at baby class, and we do those. The songs all have motions. I also found some toddler music station on Pandora. I seem to know almost all the songs — they play stuff from when I was growing up. My dad was a kid music enthusiast, so I pretty much heard all the most common stuff.

    Books! We have read so many books. I don’t do the finger thing (but might try it). We do spend time talking about what we see on each page and pointing out different items. We talk a lot about animal sounds when animals are on the page. She knows what a bee says! We also talk about what might happen in the book. So, working on early reading comprehension. I think we usually do a half hour to an hour of reading per day, usually in chunks of 10-15 minutes. She now brings books over for us to read to her, and she definitely has favorites.

    We also finally did Ferber because we were spending hours trying to get her to sleep in other ways with no success at all. After 5 nights, with each night seeing less crying, she now goes to sleep really easily at night and okay for naps. That went a long way to helping us feel refreshed and ready to interact during the day.

    So, that’s my novel to answer my own question based on what we figured out this summer :-) We decided not to be afraid to go places, and so we go. We usually stay home for the afternoon nap, but if she doesn’t go down for that, then we just take her hiking and she falls asleep in the carrier. Stealth napping! I would still love to hear what everyone else does with their kids!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Sorry we didn’t answer earlier!

      • Leah Says:

        That’s okay! You gave me some ideas in comments, and I did a lot of googling. Taking her out swimming has been our biggest awesome thing this summer. We also decided to trade off running days so we each got some personal time. Finding time for yourself is also key when caring for littles.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        so true!

        We also have one of your queued about how to spend free time, but do you still have free time that needs to be spent?

      • Leah Says:

        Somewhat. Hopefully :-) My kid actually goes to bed at night now! Going to try really, really hard not to bring very much work home this year. I’m curious to learn how you spend free time anyway.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        One of us is much less boring about free-time than the other one.

    • Miser Mom Says:

      On baby carriers — I *love* these. For my first infant (1990), I had about 3 different kinds of strollers. By the time of my next infant (1999) I had a baby carrier and a running stroller — that was it. Those two were really all I needed. It helped that technology had now advanced to the point you could fold a running stroller and stick it in the trunk of a car (not possible in 1990).

      On baby toys — one of the things that saved my sanity as a single mom once my kid hit about 3 years of age was “weekend morning toys”. My daughter loved loved loved puzzles, which I saved in a special box so that she could play with them only on weekend mornings, and even then only if she played very very quietly. Most weekdays, I’d wake her up at 7 to get her ready for school, but for some reason Saturdays and Sundays would see her bouncing out of bed at 6 a.m., full of energy. It just about killed me. Once I started the weekend toy box, she would come into my room, but she’d play quietly for about an hour and I could keep sleeping.

      • Leah Says:

        Oh, yes, the baby carrier + jogging stroller is about all we need. We have a gifted umbrella stroller, and we never use it unless we truly couldn’t fit the jogging stroller in the car.

        I love the weekend morning idea! Totally filing that away for future reference. Thanks :-)

  2. Rented life Says:

    At least once a week someone asks us when we are getting LO a dog. Because he loves to point out animals and there are lots of dogs in our town. I don’t want a dog. We have 2 cats and rent. He will not have an awful childhood with cats instead of dogs but that’s what we keep hearing–you need a dog! (I also wonder if this is gender connected–is it bc we have a boy? I don’t hear others told to get dogs.) sorry for the rant but seriously I was just asked yesterday “when are you getting him a dog?” “When he moves out” is my answer.

    • Leah Says:

      We’ve got a girl who loves animals and sometimes get that question too. But apartment living and an only cat equal no dog. If he wants to play with dogs, he can dog sit. Or, better yet, tell those dog owners they are welcome to babysit for free so he can play with a dog!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      YES, when he moves out is a great answer.

  3. Susan Says:

    My LO is 18 months – at this point we do a lot of helping/mirroring in the kitchen. We have a safe counter height stool and zie puts things in bowls, wipes counter, does dishes (not really), unloads silverware etc.

    Also pretend play feeding dolls & putting to sleep, with stuffed animals making noises (cat and dog), etc. zie started this on zir own and seems to really enjoy it.

    Walks outside (sans stroller) to find treasures (rocks, feathers, leaves etc). It’s super hot here but even less than 10 min is great for zie.

    I wish we did more art projects but between supplies and mess I don’t usually bother. We do occasionally pull out crayons or stickers. Working on potty!

  4. Ana Says:

    We read to our kids a lot (lot lot LOT) and do the underlining thing—yet my 5.5 year old has shown no signs of learning to read. I’m wondering if this is an issue or to just let him take his time. He did learn his letters really early, and counting (we did the counting thing with EVERYTHING) whereas my littler one got neglected in this arena and at nearly 4 still can’t recognize letters/numbers (I’m not worried, that kid is wicked smart when it comes to figuring out solutions to real-life issues)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      At 5.5 it could either be normal (and he needs more formal instruction which he’ll get in school) or it could be something that needs to be diagnosed. Earlier I would have said not to worry– most kids learn to read by age 7 with formal instruction– except that one of DC1’s friends was in a similar situation and did end up getting diagnosed with a learning disability (mild Aspergers) and knowing that made a huge difference. (Also the change in the mom was enormous– getting the diagnosis and knowing what to do made her a lot more confident and less worried!) The kid is incredibly smart so ze had been compensating otherwise which is why ze hadn’t been diagnosed earlier.

      • Ana Says:

        Hmmm. Interesting. So he starts KG this fall—I’m thinking it may be OK to see how he does there, and then get formal testing through the school (public school) or privately if we/the teachers note any issues? Though I’m not sure the teachers will note “issues” in a KG class, since kids come in with a variety of levels based on what kind of preschool and parental exposure (very mixed SES neighborhood) they had. In pre-K, they work on recognizing and writing letters, which he has mastered since age 4, and counting, which he also got down by age 3. He’s doing some simple math, he thinks its fun so I give him problems to do. I think about the reading thing a lot because my sister’s kids who are 6 months younger both read (one can read at a pretty high level, the other is just getting it) and my parents give me comments about how if we lived in the burbs with the rich people and sent him to the rich kids preK, he’d have learned by now.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It’s something to keep in mind. Unfortunately their (small religious school) K teacher wasn’t very helpful and her only suggestion was that ze needed to be held back because ze wasn’t reading yet. Maybe if they’d done public school it would have been caught earlier, I don’t know. Public school paying for testing is definitely a big benefit of public schools.

        Not at all saying that your child needs testing based on not reading– age 7 is the age the more reputable places on internet say to start worrying. Just in this one case it turned out to be an LD.

  5. Linda Says:

    I can’t understand why anyone would recommend a family get a dog for an infant. I’m a dog person and I wouldn’t even make that recommendation. If a family has a dog already, then teaching the child from an early age how to interact with the dog (including how to play with the dog) is best started as soon as possible. But to get a dog just to stimulate an infant is a bad idea. Children need to be older before they can really participate in caring for a family pet.

  6. Ana Says:

    “get a dog” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. NOPE. I mean, we have a dog, and we love her but 1) we got her well before having kids and 2) my kids are not really interested in playing with her, oh and 3) she’s a little freaked out by them (and loud noise in general) and tends to run into another room when they are being wild so they don’t really “play” with her much. Getting a dog was a “baby lite” experiment in dealing with sleep deprivation, pee/poo messes, and being beholden to another creature. Not to mention the expenses—vet expenses, boarding/walking, food/bed/toys, flea/heartworm preventive, training.

  7. a. Says:

    My BFF has two little ones who I consider my (fake) niece and nephew. One of the things that she likes to say is that talking to and interacting with a baby is easy if you just pretend that they’re like any other pet that comes into your family. (This is sort of a joke and sort of not.) If you get a dog or a cat, you talk to them and take care of them and take them places and involve them in your life, but you don’t expect them to talk back to you. So the same can be said of your baby except unlike your pet, they will learn to talk eventually!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Also, just as a PSA (I know you said talking and interacting, but we want to do our due diligence in case anybody isn’t reading carefully) you can’t leave babies in a kennel or even really alone in the house for any length of time, just legally.

      • a. Says:

        Right. Please obey all local laws, this advice may not apply for certain municipalities, caveat emptor, no returns or exchanges without receipt, etc. etc.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My baby-voice and my kitten-voice are exactly the same, and similar to my horse “who’s a pretty pony” voice.

      • Linda Says:

        All pros for having a dog: you can legally lock them in the house for a few hours, don’t have to continually buy clothing and shoes to accommodate their growth spurts, don’t have to save for their college fund, feed them the same food day in and day out, they are always happy to see you, they do light housework eagerly (as in keeping the kitchen floor clean of edibles that are dropped). :-)

  8. crazy grad mama Says:

    My little guy is 11 months old and love fine motor activities. He’ll focus for minutes at a time trying to put one nesting block into another (baby concentration faces are adorable!) and likes to carefully grab and feel the tags on stuffed animals. We do a lot of supervised independent play, and a lot of silly singing and dancing and generally ridiculous narration of everyday activities. Plus reading (he loves board books that have furry bits and other textures), practicing pulling to stand, watching the front-load washing machine, and learning how to pet the cat nicely.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      apparently as a baby I loved fine motor control and would happily pick up rice grains. I still suck at gross motor control (kick a ball? you must be joking!), but I can touch type :-)

  9. SP Says:

    I have considered getting a second dog to tire out my first dog, but… no. Definitely do not get a puppy – but also, not a dog.

    I don’t have kids, so that is all I have to say.

    Except I’m glad this is a post. It feels like one of those questions that you should know the answer to, so you might not want to ask it… but I personally would have no idea. I mean, I still can barely hang out with kids that are older! My nephew wanted to play “harry potter” with me, and I’ve only read the first book (ages ago). I was so hopeless, and he decided we should play something else instead. Yes, lets play a board game or something with a bit of structure! Maybe that is something you get used to and figure out if you are a parent!

  10. chacha1 Says:

    “How do you play with babies and toddlers and little kids?”
    I don’t. LOL example of completely useless comment.

    Pets are for adults. Adults with enough mental resource to comprehend that a pet is not an accessory or decor or disposable. Any parents who have pets and kids have two separate and sometimes conflicting sets of responsibilities. Teaching a child to behave responsibly with animals is a great thing, but – in my opinion – perhaps better accomplished by volunteering at a shelter BEFORE any new pets are brought into the home.

  11. Leah Says:

    What has kept my baby (12.5 months) entertained for the last 15 minutes is “mama magic.” I have two of those rings you use to hook baby toys onto stuff. She thinks it is *hilarious* when I pull two rings apart and put them back together again.

    She does love the cat. Our cat is thankfully patient, but she’s not really at an age yet to play with the cat.

  12. Tree of Knowledge Says:

    Right this moment my 15-month old is playing with jars. She pulled three small jars of different sizes out of the kitchen cabinet and is taking the lids on and off and fitting the jars together in different ways. She also likes keys and locks. When we actively play with her, it’s lots of singing and chase and peekaboo kind of games. Lots of dancing. We name and count body parts (we’ve been doing that since she was tiny). (Oh, she just figured out the smallest lid fits in the largest jar.) When it’s more passive playing with her, it’s stuff like the jars and talking to her as she plays. She has a keyboard she types on. We have an empty Kleenex box we stuff things in. She really likes looking at pictures on our phone and swiping them. From working at a daycare/preschool I figured out that you be your goofiest self until you’re tired then give the kids a “problem” to solve (she just moved on to her stacker).

    • Jay Says:

      My daughter LOVED lids and jars and containers as a baby and toddler. We had all the plastic containers in a lower cabinet and she had free access to it. She also had access to the pots and pans and the drawer of dishtowels and potholders. When she was about 12 mos, she would take the dishtowels, lay them flat on the floor in a semicircle, and the place potholders on top of them as if they were the flags of the UN. She did it repeatedly and it kept her occupied for a long time. Wish I’d gotten a picture of it.

      re: dogs – we definitely got a second dog to tire out the first one. Two dogs are often easier than one. We have only one child and when she was younger it was always easier to invite a second kid over and let them entertain each other. Siblings are more complicated :)

      BTW, I was terrible at playing with her when she was a toddler. I’m great with babies and good with older kids who can play games and have conversations. Toddlers require sitting on the floor, which is uncomfortable for me, and lots and lots of repetition. We did a lot of dancing, singing, drawing and reading, all of which I could do for hours, and not so much of the other stuff. I was glad she was in full-time daycare with people who were better at toddlering than I was.

  13. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    My experience with uncleing is that little babies, toddlers, and young children love it when adults act silly. Once they start to reach 11 years old or so, it just annoys them.

  14. Donna Freedman Says:

    My partner has a granddaughter who’s almost three. When she visits we spend a lot of time watering the plants in the greenhouse. Her “watering can” is a six-ounce tomato paste can with part of its rim crimped into a spout shape. Rose spends a ton of time filling that can from one of the greenhouse buckets and, usually, emptying it into another bucket. And again, and again. Eh, if she wants to play with water it’s OK with me. Some of it eventually gets on the plants.
    I showed her how to use a vegetable brush to rub the little prickly bits off the cucumbers she picks — more water play, as she does this in a big bowl in the sink. Again, they eventually get scrubbed.
    She also likes baking cookies, which is something my partner likes to do — he remembers his own grandparents’ home being full of delicious smells, and tries to have something good to eat either cooking or ready to be cooked.
    Until recently she loved stacking and re-stacking some funnels that we own. Also messing about with stuff like containers, canning jar rings and a big clear jug that once held Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn.
    Rose likes banging on the piano, and my partner thinks that’s just fine even though it’s his piano. When he plays it she’ll usually just watch but sometimes dives in to make it a four-handed piece.
    I actually have a big bag of small toys but I’m not going to bring them out when she has a perfectly fine time doing other stuff.

  15. Becca Says:

    I enjoy silly faces with small babies, and lots of rocking/bouncing/dancing. When Roo was little I’d lie on my back with my knees up and bounce my legs up and down with him riding like superman. A lot of leaning toward people “helloooooo” and away “goodbye!”.
    With toddlers and preschoolers, magnets, clay, duplo blocks and finger paints are the Super Big Fun (i.e. the things I enjoyed doing with him the most). I also have an arsenal of ridiculous songs with motions for the pool, from teaching the parent child ymca swim classes. The hokie pokie is even better in the pool. Roo loved his gymnastics time too, and did lots of soccer with his Dad.

    And so, so, so much reading. Some repetitive reading is good, if it doesn’t drive you too bonkers. Read with expression and trace the words even after your kid starts to pick it up (actually, as a kid I remember insisting my Mom do this and now Roo does too. I don’t know pedagogically what it’s doing, but I can tell it’s important, even if it’s doing something different than when they are first building the mental association between words and sounds). From reading with other people’s kids, I can’t recommend acting out Elephant and Piggie from Mo Willems highly enough. So hilarious, and engaging enough for kids who don’t have long attention spans.

    • Leah Says:

      oh, I’d totally love the know the pool songs! Where can I find them? We love pool time and go as much as possible. Our swim lessons did “ring around the rosie” (with up instead of down), “wheels on the bus,” and something called “motorboat, motorboat.”

      I just bought more baby face books, as my little one LOVES those. “Global Baby Girls” and “American Babies” are her two favorites.


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