A play gym is a piece of equipment that every baby needs. Play gyms are incredible not only for entertaining baby, but for stimulating their visual, auditory, and tactile senses, as well as working on gross motor skills such as reaching and kicking, and on developmental abilities like bringing hands to the midline and crossing the midline. Who would have thought that a relatively simple plastic toy could have so many benefits?
I have one of those fancy, battery-operated play gyms that has permanently attached toys that activate lights and music when pulled. When he was younger, my son spent hours lying under it, thoroughly captivated. But my favourite play gyms are the simpler ones that come with hanging toys that hook on. Why? Because those toys can be changed on a regular basis. Did you ever think that your little one might become bored after staring up at the same three hanging toys for weeks on end? I have a box of play gym toys that I rarely use, because as great as they may be, I feel there are more interesting things to hang up!
The other nice thing about removable toys is that you can change the number of items hanging from your play gym – very small babies may be overwhelmed by too many toys at one time, so it’s nice to start them off slowly. As they get older, around 3 or 4 months, you can also strategically position toys to work on skills such as reaching, meeting at the midline, and crossing the midline. Did you know that crossing the midline is not just a ‘thing’ that babies should do? It is an important skill for everyday activities such as drawing, reading, writing, cutting with scissors and playing sport.
Hang a single toy or object in the middle to encourage little hands to meet at the midline as they reach, or hand it on the left or right to encourage crossing of the midline. Make sure you alternate sides!
Here are some easy ideas for how you can change up your play gym regularly, often with simple things that you have lying around the house. Consider your baby’s different senses, particularly vision, hearing, and touch, when hanging different objects.
A visual play gym could have objects like pie dishes, colourful balls (visit a petshop for a wonderful selection of balls!) and bottle caps. In the first few weeks your baby will be able to see strong, contrasting patterns, and colours such as black, red, and white. So, keep this in mind for very small babies!
Some other visual ideas include shiny CDs, silver cereal packets (also a great one for stimulating the auditory sense) and balloons!
Some ideas for a play gym focused on the auditory sense include your baby’s favourite rattle, a small organza bag or a sock filled with jingling bells, small stones, coins, marbles or beads, an old bunch of keys, and a balloon with a little bit of dry rice inside.
You could even put some popcorn kernels (or anything else that makes a noise when shaken about) in a long box, thread some string through both ends of the box and tie it along the length of your play gym for your little one to bash and roll. If you decorate your box, then you have a visual and auditory tool in one!
To create a play gym that will stimulate your baby’s tactile sense you could use kitchen scourers, bath sponges, hair curlers, a nail brush, or a hairbrush, or even socks filled with sand, flour or rice!
For added tactile input, put your baby on different surfaces when they are playing with their play gym – a carpet, a soft blanket, grass, a towel, bubble wrap or even an inflated lilo are some ideas.
Why not step it up a notch and tie your objects on with elastic? Your little one will have great fun pulling them and watching them jump up again – this is a wonderful way to stimulate the visual sense and, for older babies, to work on the concept of cause and effect. For older babies you can also put the play gym in front of their feet to encourage them to kick noisy objects – apart from working on cause and effect, this will also build their core strength, and stimulate their proprioceptive and auditory senses.
Have fun stimulating your baby while unleashing your inner creativity at the same time!
Contributed by Zoe Sevitz of Clamber Club Babies Morningside
Cell: 083 561 7890