Freedom to Explore

Getting the toys he wants, himself.

Getting the toys he wants, himself.

Today we parents tend to worry, a lot.  Because of media we hear, it seems so often, of children getting injured or killed by some random thing and so we feel like we have to put our children in a bubble of protection lest the worst should happen.  Thus our infants tend to be confined, a lot.  Confined to a crib, confined to a swing, confined in a playpen, confined in an exersaucer, confined in a bouncy seat, confined in a high chair.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with these things, but restricting a child’s freedom for much of the day isn’t healthy.  A baby needs to move, roll, push, crawl, explore.  They need to exercise.  We also often put them in seats that hold them up in a position that isn’t natural for them at that age and can be detrimental if the child is allowed to sit in that position for hours.  Children who aren’t able to stand should not be left in an exersaucer or jumper for more than 15 mins at a time and they should not be placed in one until they’re able to hold their heads up on their own.

I made this mistake with Pumpkin 1.  Because we have dogs and wood floor, I felt safer with her in her swing or her playpen.  She was in an exersaucer a lot from about 5 months.  She was confined to a playpen for long periods of time.  It wasn’t until she was crawling that I let her explore her world as she didn’t want to be confined any more. I began to realize the importance of movement and the importance of not protecting her every second.  When she started to walk I didn’t hover to keep her from falling or bumping her head.  I let her climb on sturdy chairs herself and go up and down stairs.  She learned quickly to duck near the table, how to fall without hurting herself, and she’s been going up and down stair stand since at least 18 months.  She’s only fallen from the bottom step.

I did things differently with Pumpkin 2.  When he was born we had a playroom finally finished.  From the time he was little I’d let him lie on the floor with toys around him.  He learned to roll over several months sooner than Pumpkin 1.  I was amazed that even as a little baby, 4 months, he could get across the playroom and get a toy he wanted.  Now at almost 9 months he gets into everything.

4 1/2 months

4 1/2 months

He has the freedom to move, grab, mouth, discover and explore his environment.  His favourite thing to do is pull the kid chairs down on himself.  I think it makes him feel strong and powerful 🙂  Yes, he still spends time in is high chair watching me cook.  He spends time in his playpen as the rest of the house isn’t as babyproofed.  But I make sure he gets time every day to have freedom.  With obesity rates what they are today, it’s never too early to let your child get moving and exercising their body.

The Montessori method advocates allowing children to explore their environment, to teach a child how to be safe rather than locking everything up, within reason of course.  Many followers of Montessori don’t even use cribs.  Their babies sleep on a mattress on the floor.  Their room is completely babyproofed and so if the child wakes, he or she is free to roll off the bed and explore.  Floor beds are not something I’ve done as we have baseboard heaters, but I think they can be great in a safe room.

So what about your home?  Is there a space that you can make safe and give your baby the freedom to move and explore in?  A young baby may only need a small space, but a moving and crawling baby will need a bigger space.  Babyproof the area, put out low shelves with toys your baby can get out himself, a low mirror on a wall is a great addition.  If your baby is pulling up then a sturdy low table is excellent, or even one of those activity center tables.  And perhaps a floor bed is right for your baby.

Freedom.  It helps foster independence, curiosity and intelligence as well as build coordination, balance, and improve health.  Give your child a daily dose.

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Best Toys for Under 9 Months

For a baby you want to provide simple, safe toys that the baby has to manipulate to get a reaction from.  Avoid battery operated toys, though it’s okay to have a couple.  A baby doesn’t need a ton of toys or expensive toys.  The best toys are often home-made.  You want the toys to be safe for the baby to mouth because that is one of the ways a baby explores an object.  Once the baby is a little mobile, put the toys on a low shelf or in a little basket so that the baby can get them himself.  Provide a safe area for your baby to roll around and explore (not a playpen, bigger than that).  Don’t fill it with too many things.  Have you ever noticed how when you put a pile of toys in front of your baby he rolls away to play with a tag on a basket?  Too many choices can be overwhelming for a baby.  Here are our family’s favourite baby toys (links in the pictures):

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Small tin cups from the dollar store.  They make a great noise when banged together and are nice and shiny.

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Hair curlers from the dollar store.  They have an interesting texture and are different sizes and colours.

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Canning jar top and juice can lids.  Cheap, safe and great baby toys.

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Water bottle with objects inside.  You can put so many different things, beads, pipe cleaners, sparkles, toys that are too small for baby to play with.  Just remember to glue the top on.

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Knobby ball.  Balls are great for mobile babies and the knobby ball feels so cool, all the kids like to touch it.

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Oball.  This one is easy for a baby to pick up and hold or catch.

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Object permanence box.  Baby drops ball in and it comes back out.

A ball drop is a toy your baby will use over and over.  Good for eye/hand coordination.

Sophie the Giraffe.  Yes, it’s over-priced, but it’s the best teething toy we’ve had.  It’s all natural and the legs are perfect for getting to those back molars.

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Oball Stacker.  It can be stacked all different ways.

DIY baby toys.  Pull, push, dump, great fun.

Black and white baby gym.  These are good for small babies that can’t move yet.

Baby hair brush makes a great toy.  It has different textures and the handle fits in the mouth.  If it has a grippy handle it’s even better.

A low mirror for baby to see in.

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Small cloths or handkerchiefs.  These can be squished, chewed on, shaken and are always changing shape.