Serious Science: Play!

“Babies learn through their five senses rather than an academic style of learning. That’s why talking, reading, singing, tummy time, grabbing books and toys, and knocking over that pile of blocks is optimal for development. It’s all part of the science of play.”
Wendy Dickens, Executive Director, First 5 Shasta

“So, what makes a rattle rattle?” wonders your baby, little fingers grasping the handle and giving it a wave. “Aha! I do!” That’s your baby at play and learning cause and effect. Your baby is a scientist. Really!

As parents, you get the cutest results from singing a lullaby, playing peek-a-boo, and reading aloud. You work hard for your baby’s first smiles, coos, and giggles. Baby play progresses to more physical exploration like grasping objects, shaking a plastic ring of keys, and the big milestones of rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking, and, eventually, thinking it’s the funniest thing to try to outrun you. At Walmart. These moments fill you (mostly) with pride. There’s also something very serious going on for your baby – scientific results.

“Play can be under-rated,” says First 5 Shasta’s Wendy Dickens. “It’s so important to later conceptual knowledge. It really is the work of children! It’s their job.

Babies and young children are working on some serious science through playing and exploring their environment. Play teaches social and verbal skills, but the full power of play is in brain development, relationship building, early math and physics concepts, understanding spatial relationships, and learning about the environment.

Play prompts strong, healthy brain development, stimulating critical connections between neurons. Those connections become stronger and form essential pathways each time they are used. Those pathways will guide human behavior and learning, not just during early childhood, but for life.”

Dickens is well versed in the science of play. She’s raised and played with two daughters and has been an educator for other parents on the benefits of safe, age-appropriate play.

She says, “Parents don’t need to buy expensive toys to give their kids the best play experiences.More than anything else, YOU are your child’s favorite toy. You’re the best thing ever! You’re their first partner in play, in learning to share, and the time you spend playing together is not only fun, it’s invaluable to optimal child development. Through play, children build motor skills, verbal skills, and social-emotional skills such as compassion.”

Dickens is a fan of some very basic toys that build your child’s essential foundational knowledge.

  • Plastic ring of keys – good for baby’s small motor skills and for oral exploration
  • Sensory toys (rattle) – not just for sound, but for the physical law of cause and effect
  • Shape sorter – a star does not fit into a round hole and other math & geometry lessons
  • Wooden blocks – stacking and arranging teaches how things work together

click on image to get 3 low cost or not cost activities

Click for 3 Low Cost, No Cost Play Activities

So, just how scientific is play? Infant cognition research over the past 30 years reveals how babies start with an intuitive, rather instinctual understanding of physical laws. Experience such as play helps them grow their physics knowledge. Typically, a two-month-old will start following a moving object with both eyes. They learn about object permanency; something may move or be hidden, but it isn’t gone for good. If you hide something under a cup and move the cup, they come to realize it’s still under the cup. They also begin to develop a sense of gravity; unsupported things can fall. Think how handy that comes in when it’s time to play with blocks! They can build them up and knock them down, all in the name of science.
Every day is a new experiment for your baby. It’s how they test out their ideas and continue to learn new skills. They’re growing the knowledge base that they’ll one day use every day as adults. Give them every chance to play and be the leading scientist in their world.


Infants Grasp Gravity

Ways to Play
Infant Brain Stimulation
0-to- 12 Months

Free “Let’s Play!” App
from Zero to Three
Download: Android (Google Play)
Apple (I-Tunes)

Playgrounds for Young Children<
Digital map to outdoor play in Shasta County.

About Deborah Peel

Writer, blogger, marketer, mother, lover of big trees and isolated mountain tops. I'm passionate about the pathway to success that First 5 Shasta is building for young children. Our grantees, partners, and caring community members all contribute to this critical early childhood investment. Together, we make the pathway strong!
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One Response to Serious Science: Play!

  1. MADRYWALL@AOL.COM' Mark A. Guardino says:

    Very true article,
    What you learn as a child will last and forever shape your future, Well advised.

    Mark A. Guardino

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