Simple Infant Toys Make Things Happen

While our play objects for infants at first glance, seem quite simple- an astute observer soon discovers the magic and discovery passive toys make for active babies.

“Aren’t the babies bored?” one prospective parent innocently asked during an Open House.  Glancing at the Infant Solarium, I could see how RIE play objects might look inanimate when not in a child’s hands.  I assured him that when adults trust a child to be an initiator, explorer and constructor of her own knowledge- the baby is not bored.  A bored child, rather, has inadvertently become dependent on toys designed to entertain  or on adults to shake, rattle and roll for her.  Both can rob a child of her own discovery.

An active baby engaged in simple infant toys makes things happen.  The link below affords a few minute observation of a not yet mobile child at play with simple objects.

Non-Mobile Infant Simple Toys from MMP School on Vimeo.

How important is a child’s experimentation on these open-ended play objects?

A baby’s intimate understanding of simple toys and his continually developing ability to manipulate these objects in increasingly complex ways means, “…his actions look much less magical and are much more effective.  This allows (the child) to really plan and scheme and use physical objects as tools.  By the time babies are eighteen months old, they understand quite complicated things about how objects affect each other.”  (Gopnik, Meltzoff, Kuly; The Scientist in the Crib, p77).

School founder and author of Being with Babies, Beverly Kovach, concurs, “You may be wooed by marketing strategies to buy too many complex playthings for babies.  However, babies’ brains develop by relating to objects in ways that develop their interest, curiosity, problem-solving skills, and sensory experiences.” (p 31)

It appears that when it comes to infant toys and infant learning, the experts agree- Less is More.

Here are some ideas for simple, open-ended play objects which are also highly affordable yet rich in opportunities for infants to explore, experiment and discover their unique characteristics:

Beginning objects

An increase in quantity keeps things interesting

“The toy in the child’s hand is alive.” -Magda Gerber

5 thoughts on “Simple Infant Toys Make Things Happen”

  1. Yesterday my son and I joined a baby playgroup. All the moms busted out toys for their little ones. I was the only one whose toys were NOT made of brightly-colored plastic (I even considered bringing his most-loved toys, which are a spoon, a measuring cup, a ribbon, and a bottle of mustard seeds). I hope to be able to share this article with them… one day…

    1. At one time Little Learners Lodge had more plastic in our environments. Then we went BPA free. After experimenting a bit with approved plastic toys we decided to remove most of them, too. The reason- we noticed that children who played mostly with the plastic seemed to take less care with fragile items or have less control of movement. Perhaps the plastic is so strong, it doesn’t provide the necessary feedback for young children to develop a care of the environment??? We’ve found natural materials have helped with this and as the children get older, we even use some items that might break if you are too rough with them.

      1. Interesting! While my son has had both natural wood and wool toys as well as some plastic toys as an infant, I have noticed he is much more careful with things than many other kids. We store all of his art supplies in glass containers and at his level. His playroom has many fragile found objects- shells, twigs, pine cones, ect as well. While there are of course accidents, they are often my fault, or a visiting child who isn’t as careful. I feel like being given trust in his capabilities to respect objects from a young age helped teach him how to be mindful of how he treats objects.

  2. I once had a Feldenkrais teacher say “I don’t understand how people can be bored in life…there is so much sensation, so much going on in every moment if we just give our attention to it.” I think, when we as adults can embrace that, well we understand our children that much more.

    I am also fascinated by your comment, in the comments, about plastic and the children “taking less care with fragile objects.” What a wonderful insight! I hope you do a blog post on that too! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Buffy. One of my RIE Mentor teachers is also a Feldenkrais practitioner. I love what I’ve learned from them- especially their infant movement videos!

      We don’t have any hard research on our plastic experience, just what we’ve observed. Much less broken items on the shelves and the materials seem to be lasting longer, too.

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