Read and Play: Intentional Play-Based Learning Activities for Babies

Babies use their senses to learn about the world around them. By providing your child with the freedom to explore within the constraints of an intentional play activity, you are teaching him concepts and skills without inhibiting his own self-discovery. In today's post I offer you intentional fall-themed play activities based on a board book that is perfect for babies under 1.

My baby boy bookworm and I spend a lot of time playing. Play is good for his developing mind because babies learn through exploration by using all of their senses to analyze and experiment with their environment, much like a scientist would.

Often I set a few objects or toys on the floor and allow him to investigate them on his own. Sometimes he bangs them together or pushes them in a playful way. Sometimes he holds an object in his hand and stares at it intently. Many times toys go into his mouth so he can suck and chew on them. I try to be as "hands-off" as possible to allow him to discover his own cause-and-effect relationships.

Sometimes I offer him a more intentional learning environment. I still allow him to explore and play on his own, but the activity that I have chosen has been selected with the intent of him gaining a particular skill or concept.

Leaves is a board book that I picked up at our local library and decided to use as the focus of an intentional play activity. It is a book full of the colors of autumn, photographs of smiling children playing in leaves and simple language to describe leaves and what fun they can be.

Here are some suggestions for reading this book with your baby:

  1. Talk about and point out all of the fall colors in the book.
  2. Talk about the different kinds of leaves you see in the book.
  3. Talk about the different sights and sounds of autumn.
  4. Talk about the children in the book and why they might be dressed they way they are.

If your child is an active crawler or walker who doesn't like to sit while reading, take advantage of your high chair or stroller like I often do.

Allow your child to handle the book after you are done reading and talking about it. Point out the words versus the pictures, the title and front cover, and demonstrate how to turn the pages.

Next, invite your child to do a planned play activity that relates to the book. As you do your activity, make connections back to Leaves and the concepts you might have talked about. Intentional learning activities might include:

  • Exploring and playing with leaves at the park or at home (shown below)
  • Finding different kinds of leaves and collecting them while on a walk
  • Playing in a fall-inspired sensory bin full of different kinds of leaves
  • Painting a leaf cutout using finger paints in fall colors
  • Painting "leaves" on a tree with baby food in fall colors (shown below)

While your child plays, allow him to discover and explore on his own but offer guidance. Ask questions or narrate to help boost his language skills. What does the leaf feel like? What is this part of the leaf called? What does the leaf sound like if we crinkle it? What color is this leaf? How many leaves did we find?

I think you'll be surprised at the ways your little scientist baby explores and learns all by himself.

Can't find Leaves? Check out the touch-and-feel board book Fall.

Marissa Kiepert Truong, PhD, is a Chester County, PA mom and early education consultant. This post is adapted from her blog, Land of Once Upon a Time.

Categories: MomSpeak