Playing With Your Crawler

Even with all of the amazing toys she had as a toddler, my oldest daughter most remembers the huge cardboard box. Today she’s a teen, and she still brings up how she crawled through that long, wide box our television stand was delivered in. As I coaxed her along, she loved to get on all fours to pretend she was a puppy running through the makeshift tunnel to me, her “owner.”

It takes fewer toys than you might imagine to entertain your crawling baby girl or boy. By the time your baby reaches age one, he’ll be ready to explore the world. Simple games, obstacle courses and rhyming songs can entertain your baby for many hours and help him to learn while strengthening his body and mind.

Encouraging development in your baby

Babies grow quickly – it may seem like one day you brought him home, and in no time at all he’s suddenly crawling. Crawling is important to brain development in your baby, says Lonna Corder, a parent educator in San Francisco.

“First, your baby is in mommy’s arms and sees the world through a safe and cozy filter,” Corder says. “Then, when your baby sits up and looks out away from mommy, the world is a bigger place. Next, the baby is mobile. Crawling takes the baby away from you and gives him a perspective from the floor level, which helps brain development.”

Parents need to gain their baby’s trust and confidence as their baby engages in crawling away from the parent. “Chase games are fantastic, because it’s fun to crawl away from mommy and daddy, but it’s safe when they catch up,” Corder says. “It is the first game – after peek-a-boo – that teaches the baby that mommy is still there after she disappears.”

Another effective but simple developmental game for your crawler is to create an obstacle course with pillows, Corder says. Arrange the pillows to increase the difficulty as the course goes along. “The course will challenge the babies’ physical and mental abilities,” Corder explains. “Babies will learn to use their bodies and take risks that build confidence. It’s rewarding for both babies and their parents to have baby conquer a complicated course that can involve going through, under, around and over things like pillows.”

 More games for your crawler

“Crawling games teach baby about limits and boundaries, which are important skills for future experiences,” Corder says. Playing hide-and-seek with an object is a good game to enjoy with babies at this stage, says Fran Swift, a parent educator in La Crosse, WI. Hide a stuffed animal or other toy where your baby can easily locate it. To boost baby’s confidence and trust, keep reaffirming to your baby that the object will come back.

Let the baby take a turn hiding an object for you too. “These games of hide-and-seek and peek-a-boo are more than just a fun way to play,” Swift says. “These actually prepare your child to separate from you more easily and know that you will come back for him.”

Sometimes parents inundate their babies with too many toys, blocking their way when babies simply want to crawl around and explore. Swift suggest that parents isolate a particular toy or set up a little scene – perhaps a group of toy cars parked, or a puzzle on a couch or chair. “This will give baby something interesting to crawl to,” Swift says. “When baby reaches the toy, it will hold his interest by the very fact that it’s in an unusual place. Put out different toys on varying days to keep baby curious.”

When you’re already down on the floor with your baby, it’s a good time to share in finger plays and songs, such as the “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Babies love music and they love to imitate others, Swift says. Soon he’ll be trying to sing along and act out the spider going up and down the water spout.

Be creative when doing finger plays. You can rock your baby in your lap on the floor as you “row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream” together. Your baby may surprise you with some extra giggles and smiles as you play and sing.

Another idea is to use acrylic toy key chains to capture a crawling baby’s attention. “You can insert pictures of loved ones in the acrylic frames for babies to look at,” Swift says. “Keep a variety of these key chains in a basket for babies to crawl to.”  Put these out only when you can fully supervise play since they are not safe as teething toys.

Keeping your crawler safe

With your baby crawling around, it becomes even more vital for you to make sure your home is baby-proofed. “The safety issue is very important with a crawler,” Swift says. The best way to handle this is to sit on the floor and look around at what your baby can see from his eye level.

Look for not only the obvious safety hazards, such as lamp cords, table cloths and electrical outlets, but also look for things that may be attractive to your baby. If he sees a colorful coffee mug, for example, he may reach for it.

Safety gates need to be used to block stairs in your home. On the other hand, if you have time to supervise and play with your baby, you can monitor him on the stairs. It’s fun for babies to go up and down them. “It’s great exercise for babies, and they love learning to use their bodies,” Swift says. “Remember to lock the safety gate when they’re finished climbing.”

Since most families spend a lot of time in their kitchens, give this area extra attention to ensure it’s safe for baby. Keep the floors swept – babies love to put tiny food bits and other objects in their mouths. Make sure your pet’s water and food bowls are out of baby’s grasp. In addition, keep a watchful eye on your pets until you know how they will react to your crawler; never leave your baby unattended with a pet.

When Swift’s son was small, she created his own drawer filled with fun objects for him to play with in the kitchen while she prepared meals and did other tasks. He loved to stack measuring cups and other dishes and to bang on pots and pans. A collection of jar lids turned out to be one of his favorite toys. Swift gathered and cleaned different sizes and colors of smooth metal lids for her son and put them in a basket. He loved to look at them, line them up, sort them and clash them together. Later they became pretend cookies or pizza.

Two decades later, Swift still gives lid collections as baby gifts to her friends. She organizes them in a nice basket with a special note about how baby may play with them. Her friends may look at her quizzically at first, but when their babies start to crawl, she more often than not receives a thank you card or call.

“Just enjoy this age when your child is crawling,” Swift says. “It’s an important age and it’s a fun age. Babies are usually so responsive, watching you, imitating you and learning all the time. You’re everything to your child right now.”

Kim Seidel
About Kim Seidel

Kim Seidel is an award-winning writer and mother of two daughters.

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