Tuesday, January 18, 2011

And baby toys, too???

In my last post I talked about organizing toys and learning items for toddlers and preschoolers....Baby Mamas, this applies to you, too! We're all guilty of the "get a big basket and throw em all in there" mentality. I had to constantly fight this urge, too, believe me! Thankfully I had spent a year in one of the best infant classrooms working the last shift of the day, which meant I was the one who had to restore all of the baby toys to the shelf. The wise, seasoned infant teachers quickly trained me how toys should be offered to infants, and I saw how much better this worked than the basket approach I'd seen in other classrooms I'd worked.

The belief roots from the same thinking as for toddlers and preschoolers (read previous post if you are interested). Setting out a few, carefully selected items and rotating them to provide for interest, developmental level and variety provides a much greater learning environment for an infant than digging through a basket of toy mish-mash.

How do you do this?
Look at your baby's developmental stage--what are they working on? Grasping and holding? Putting objects in and out of containers? Squeezing squeaky toys? Chewing on various textures? Find 4-6 items to put out that correspond to this stage. (this shelf has a few more items because Q was a little over a year at this point)

Organize the items neatly. Find a low, child accessible shelf or windowsill. Don't buy anything--be creative and see what you have. If you only have a higher bookshelf, use just the bottom shelves for baby things. Plastic crates turned on their sides work. A fireplace hearth works. Shop your house and find a spot that baby can reach. Try to provide a tray or basket for each item (or set of like items. ) Even if your baby is too little to clean up themselves, it helps encourage Mom and Dad and other caregivers to put items back where they go and resist the "basket" urge. It also begins modeling for the infant how they will learn to restore items when they get older. Speech teachers will tell you this method begins to put like-items in groups in the child's mind, which is a language and thought concept. For example, seeing all the plastic animals together in one basket begins to teach "these are all the same somehow--they're all animals."
I bought my baskets at the Salvation Army and most of my metal/wooden trays there, too. Ugly trays were spray painted white or black. I am also known to use muffin tins or cookie sheets for trays to hold larger items. Really big items are sometimes left un-trayed or un-basketed (yes, I did just make up those words). The silver container holding the utensils below is a formula container with the label taken off.

Change items out periodically. For me, I need the routine of having a specific time to remember to change out items. I do it once a month, typically. Not on a certain date, but I do try to do it the first week of a month. I am not against switching out or adding in a particular item sooner than the month, though. And I keep a basket in my cabinet for "next month." That way as I am out and about and collect/buy/borrow or even see a particular item in my house that might be good for my child's particular stage and developmental level, I can throw it in the basket to remember for next month. Typically by the time I get to the next month, I already have most of the replacement items chosen and ready to go.

Try to represent the different learning modalities--music, language/literacy, math, science, manipulative (something to touch), culture, practical life, dramatic play. For infants this isn't very in depth--a sheep can represent science, as science for babies involves learning body parts and types of animals.

So....for a 4 month old? Maybe a couple of board books opened on the shelf. A basket with a rattle. A basket with three bells tied together with some ribbon. A basket with some keys. A tray with a maraca on it. A tray with two choices of teethers.

So even for little, little ones, organization of learning materials matters! It's not as hard as it seems, either. It will actually make you more sane, I believe. To clean up 8 items will take a lot less time than the basket of hundreds. :)

Take the challenge, de-basketify this week!

Here are a few more images from items we had out for Q at different ages and how they were presented: