Jennie Monness is a friend of mine who opened my favorite NYC play space, Union Square Play, where I often take my son Henry. She’s an early childhood educator and guru and mom to a 21-month-old (and expecting her second this month!). She took her decades’ worth of knowledge in early childhood education and turned it into a blog called Mo’ Mommies. She used her website and social media to show other parents how she educates and cares for her daughter, which turned into meetup groups to connect, support, and empower one another. She went on to co-found Union Square Play, featuring open-ended play materials that help babies engage with each other and learn in the most natural, innate way. Learn her informative insights below.
OK, now help us! How do we play with our babies?
Jennie: I say it all the time, that it truly comes down to what we want our children to get out of their play. Do we want them to be engaged rather than entertained? Do we want them to sit and watch when they play or immerse themselves in learning and fun?
With the right mix of thoughtful toys and “non-toys,” you get engaged, focused, and curious babies. You encourage creativity, imagination, and play that is endless. So many people today have an overabundance of toys that their children don’t even find interesting anymore. That’s why I guide parents on what to get at the right age and even created a storefront on Amazon. I included descriptions to tell you how to invite your child to play with these materials.
To make things even easier to get started, I chose some of my favorites here that will stimulate innovation, imagination, and creativity as your child discovers the ways they can be used. These objects may take a bit of “inviting” on the part of the adult, but most will encourage your child to dive right in!
Children of all ages love to make noise, and they love to cause the noise, am I right? A plastic chain is amazing for this. They can shake it (a movement they love to do), and it makes noise depending on the surface they are using. It’s a long object they can easily move around, drag, or wrap. The opportunities for play are endless.
Shop: Chain Toys Parrot Multicolor Plastic Chain ($10)
I love smaller objects (as long as they aren’t choking hazards!) for children because they are rare to come by. Part of what they love when they are young is sorting, collecting, and dumping. With this set of colored pebbles, they can do any of that and more. Older children can create patterns with them (you can order pattern cards with them too) while younger children will just enjoy exploring them. Throw them in the bath for added fun.
Shop: Edx Education Junior Rainbow Pebbles ($25)
Young children love to see the effect of their actions. Using a salad spinner is a “non-toy” version of a cause-and-effect toy but more open-ended than an electronic or “jack in the box-esque” toy. You can put smaller objects (shells from the beach, rocks collected, or colored pebbles listed above) inside, show your child what pressing down on the lever will do, and watch the magic. Your child will take things in and out and push down over and over to watch it all spin. You can even add mini flashlights inside for an added sensory experience.
Shop: Oxo Good Grips 5 Quart Salad Spinner ($42)
This spice rack is not only aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also a great tool for sorting and fitting things inside. Lay it flat on the ground and invite your child to play by putting a basket of the colored pebbles or any objects that have assorted sizes next to it. Your child will enjoy seeing what fits and what doesn’t.
What I love about these buddha boards is that they are actually meant for adults too. They automatically calm down both adults and children. For younger children, just skip the brush altogether and let them explore the ways their hands can make marks on the board with just a bit of water. Older children will love practicing fine motor skills by using the brushes. You can just use it on the DL and thank me for adding some calm to the chaos of parenthood all in one purchase.
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