Childminding UK: Play with Babies

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Childminding UK: Play with Babies

How brains develop in babies 

A newborn babies’ brain is a quarter of the size of an adult’s brain.  However, this doubles in size within the first year and is around 80% of an adult’s brain by age 3 and 90% by age 5.  A baby will then build upon this core development for the rest of their lives.

It is therefore so important that we take the opportunities to develop the brain during these first few months and years after the child is born because it is at this time that the brain develops more than at any other time in life.

Babies’ brains, up until they are approximately age 5, act in a different way to that of an adults.  Their brains are like sponges, they absorb every single thing that is going on around them constantly and effortlessly and this builds new connections in their brain.  They have a different relation to their environment than what adults do – the child absorbs it and the things they see are not just remembered; they form a part of their soul.

Maria Montessori in ‘The Absorbent Mind’ states that ‘if we compare our ability as adults to that of a child, it would require us 60 years of hard work to achieve what a child has achieved in these first 3 years.’  

What can we do to build these new connections in the brain?

The best way for a child to learn and develop is through play.  Playing with a baby is about more than just having fun.  It is about building the foundation on which they will learning a range of skills including:

Developing skills in being social - one of their first developmental stages is to learn to smile and engage with other people. This human connection helps babies to build an attachment to their caregiver which makes the feel content, safe and secure.

Developing their gross and fine motor skills

How to move and control their body and build spatial awareness

Learn about emotions and how to express themselves

Using their imagination, creativity and curiosity builds cognitive development

How to play with babies

Play is not only about having fun, it is also the foundation on which babies will learn a range of new skills.  

It doesn’t need to be structured or complicated, and you do not need lots of expensive gadgets or toys.  A child’s favourite kind of play is with their parent/s or caregivers.  Here are some ideas of things a parent or caregiver can do to play with a baby:

Talk to them.

Narrate what you are doing.

When they start to make sounds, repeat these sounds back to them to acknowledge the sound they’ve made and that you can hear them.

Sing songs and nursery rhymes to them.

Make up silly songs and rhymes.

Read to them every day, even from birth — choose books with bright colours, that make a sound and that have different textures.

Play peekaboo and watch for their responses.

Take them outside for a walk and talk about what they see and hear.  For example, birds, traffic, trees, animals and other people are all part of their world though they won’t know this unless you point them out.

Ensure they have some time on their tummies every day from birth.  This will help them to strengthen muscles in their neck, upper body, shoulders, arms, wrists and hands which will all help your child to crawl, walk, move around and eventually write in school.  Place toys near or around them or get on the floor with them so they don’t feel alone.

Join a playgroup and socialise with other parents.

Treasure Baskets

These are a great way of engaging babies and young children. They are sometimes referred to as heuristic play baskets and are usually a shallow, flat bottomed basket which contains a number of real world objects made from natural materials that come from nature and around the house that are not plastic which allows the child to explore. This gives babies opportunities for multi-sensory play and exploration.  Heuristic means to learn, discover and reach an understanding of something and treasure baskets are a form of heuristic play for babies.

Treasure baskets are led by the child with very little adult guidance required.  However, it is important that babies are supervised at all times whilst using a treasure basket to avoid any risks of choking, suffocation, etc.

Here are some ideas of things that can be put into a Treasure Basket.

Large pebbles to avoid the risk of choking – both smooth and rough

Cardboard tubes

Shaving brush

Pumice stone

A lemon or lime

A closed netted bag containing natural herbs such as lavender

Pine cones

Sticks – be careful of sharp edges and splinters and ensure the child doesn’t poke themselves in the eyes

Mylar blanket – the shiny foil blankets that are in first aid boxes that are put around people suffering with hypothermia.  These are shiny, make a lovely crinkly sound are babies are fascinated by them

A nail brush

Empty water bottles

Water bottles filled with glitter and water.  

Water bottles filled with uncooked rice, pasta or dried beans/peas make great shakers.  With both of these water bottle ideas, ensure the top is secure and the baby cannot gain access to the contents.

Bubble wrap

Different fabrics and materials that are soft, fluffy, shiny, smooth etc.

Wooden spoons and bowls

Metal spoons and bowls


Ensure the baby is fed, watered, changed and not tired before placing them on the floor to play with a play basket.  Allow them to explore for around half an hour to ensure they don’t get bored and will be excited to see it again another day.  It is recommended that a play basket is brought out 2 to 3 times a week.  Keep rotating and updating the items inside the basket to keep it fresh and exciting to the child.

Watch the child to see how they interact with the play basket. Do they put things inside other things?  Do they bang them together?  Do they wince at the smell of something or do they keep on smelling it because they like it?  Do they have a favourite item that they keep showing you or is there something that they won’t touch?  

Don’t interrupt their play

It is important that the child is supervised during play whilst not interrupting the play.  When the child is involved in their play, they are achieving deep levels of learning which in turn lead to brain development.  An adult should only join in with the child if the child invites them to do so, for example, if they hold out an item for you to look at.

Don’t direct the play

Don’t direct the play by offering objects for the child to play with.

Don’t distract the baby

Don’t talk to the baby and distract or disturb their concentration.

Don’t talk to other adults

Don’t talk to other adults as this will not allow you to fully observe and respond to the child.

Get distracted doing other things

Don’t get distracted by catching up on paperwork or another activity which stops you focusing on the baby and their learning.

About Childminding UK

Childminding UK has been supporting childminders for over 30 years. Formed in 1991 by and for local working childminders in Northamptonshire, we now support childminders across the country. A registered charity, we are the only national organisation that solely supports childminders and the only early years organisation that has achieved the Princess Royal Training Award for ‘Ensuring high quality childcare through training and support’. All staff are experienced childcare professionals, and have been childminders themselves and our trustees are working childminders or have knowledge of childminding, so we have a good understanding of the sector.

To find out more about Childminding UK or to get in touch – please click here.

Please note, the information in this article is provided by Childminding UK and does not represent the views or opinions of Morton Michel.