baby play

Baby Play: Squiqz

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

In most of my baby play posts, I talk about items that are easy and relatively cheap to replicate, often with items found around the house or at Dollar Tree. I love using play items like cereal boxes and straws and taped toys because they provide parents with ideas that they can easily recreate on their own and remind everyone that baby toys don’t have to be super expensive.

However, if a library has the budget, it can also be nice to provide some items that cost money too. For more affluent parents, you are providing them an opportunity to test out some baby items before making the decision to purchase something. For those families with less funds, you are giving their little ones an opportunity to interact with a type of toy they may not be able to experience at home.

One of my coworkers came across Squiqz when visiting family. These “fun little suckers” (the actual slogan) are essentially flexible, brightly colored building tools with suction cups. A standard collection comes with eight different designs, most of which involve at least two suction cups. They stick to each other and most surfaces, including windows, mirrors, and cookie sheets, never leaving a residue behind.

These tools are a fascinating texture for little hands (and mouths). Made of BPA-free, latex-free silicone, they easily survive the chewing that always takes place during baby play time. The smallest babies just love exploring their shapes with their hands and mouths. Slightly older babies (8-18 months) are developing the fine motor skills to be able to stick these individually to a flat surface and to pull them off afterwards (often more challenging). Older toddlers can start to build structures by sticking them together, as their finger muscles get stronger.

Recommended Purchases

Fat Brain Toys Original Squigz Deluxe 50 Piece Set – Suction Construction Bath Toys for Ages 3 to 8

Price: $50 for 50 piece set (more price and size options available)

Available At: Amazon, Target, Walmart

Items to Extend Play:

  • Cookie Sheets (Dollar Tree)
  • Baby-Safe Mirrors

Possible Future Purchases:

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What does it feel like?
  • What color is the Squig?
  • Can you make it stick to the window?
  • How many do you have?
  • What can you do to get the Squigz off the cookie sheet?
  • What happens if the Squigz get wet?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Adhere
Bendy
Build
Flexible
Glue

Peel
Press
Pressure
Pull
Stick

Stretch
Suckers
Suction
Unsteady
Wobbly

Baby Play: Pool Noodle Abacus

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

The pool noodle abacus helps the littlest children practice fine motor skills and older toddlers and preschool practice basic math. While a true abacus requires more than two strings, this creates a similar effect for young learners, while also providing a cool activity to experiment with how the pool noodle pieces move back and forth and how much pressure the yarn can withstand.

I tied the string between two chairs, though I would suggest something more sturdy if you have that available. Many children moved the chairs or manged to remove one end of the string (the top piece was taped on instead of tied on). Also consider whether you want the string closer to a wall or further away–having the lower string further from the wall encouraged climbing between the strings. This can be a great way to practice gross motor skills, or it can also be seen as a tripping hazard.

How to Make

Materials: yarn, pool noodles, knife, scissors

Steps:

  • Use the knife to cut 1-2 pool noodles into roughly 1-3″ pieces.
  • Tie one end of a piece of thick yarn to a sturdy surface, like a chair.
  • String about 20 pool noodle pieces onto the string (or whatever amount fits in the space you have).
  • Cut the other end of the string, leaving at least 1-2 feet of empty string so pieces can be moved easily.
  • Securely tie the other end of the string to another sturdy surface.
  • Repeat for however many rows of strings you would like to create.

Cost: $0-5

  • 2 Pool Noodles (Dollar Tree)
  • Yarn

Time to Make: 10 minutes

Pro-Tip: To expand this activity, try cutting a vertical slit in one side of a pool noodle piece so the pool noodle piece can also be removed from the string. Little ones can explore how to add or remove pool noodle pieces from the abacus.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • How many red pool noodle pieces are on the rope?
  • Can you find a blue pool noodle?
  • How many pool noodle pieces are on the rope total?
  • Can you push five pieces to one side of the rope?
  • How do the pool noodles feel?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Add
Count
Guess
Hang
Itchy
Light

Move
Prickly
Rope
Scoot
Scratchy
Shift

Squeeze
String
Subtract
Tally
Total
Yarn

Baby Play: Card Slot Drop

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Similar to the cereal boxes and straws activity, the card slot drop’s popularity always surprises me. This very simple DIY activity involves cutting a card-sized hole into a container–in this case a bulk-sized Oatmeal container–and providing cards for babies to drop inside of the opening.

I have coworkers who regularly donate these cylindrical oatmeal containers, so they become a great, free resource for these kinds of activities. I particularly like how easy the lid is to remove. Parents can easily dump out the contents of a container if it gets full, and older toddlers can manage to open the container themselves, growing finger muscles and providing a sense of accomplishment.

Babies enjoy putting smaller objects into bins, but this activity is particularly beneficial because of the small card-sized hole in the lid. In addition to fine motor skills, it takes practiced dexterity and hand eye coordination for little ones to be able to fit the card into the slot.

How to Make

Materials: pack of playing cards, empty oatmeal container (alternatively could be a box or other sturdy container on hand), duct tape, x-acto knife

Steps:

  • Use the knife to cut a slot in the lid of the oatmeal container (or box) that is about a 0.25″ x 3″ (wide enough for a playing card to fit through).
  • As necessary, cover any ripped or jagged edges with pieces of duct tape.
  • Put lid onto container.
  • Put out container and pack of opened playing cards.

Cost: $0-5

  • Playing Cards (Dollar Tree)
  • Empty Oatmeal Container or Box

Time to Make: 10 minutes

Pro-Tip: I’ve had more success cutting the slot into the lid of the oatmeal container while the lid was on the empty container. This may just be due to my lack of skills with cutting implements.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • Can you put the card inside the container?
  • How many cards can you fit in at one time?
  • What does the card feel like?
  • Shake the container. What does it sound like?
  • How can you get the cards back out?
  • Play pretend. What else could the playing cards be?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Bounce
Dexterity
Drop
Dump
Empty
Fall

Full
Hide
Into
Jolt
Open
Rattle

Release
Slide
Slip
Slit
Smooth
Within

Baby Play: Tugging Boxes

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

While not the prettiest of my replicate-at-home baby play items, tugging boxes help little ones explore cause and effect (STEM) while also experiencing different textures (sensory play) and building fine motor skills by wrapping their fingers around small items and developing muscles by pulling.

I haven’t found the perfect combination to make these boxes sturdy but physically attractive so that more little ones and parents gravitate toward them during playtime. I’ve considered wrapping the boxes, but I think the babies would then focus on trying to tear off the paper. If you have any ideas on making these more visually appealing, please comment below!

Overall, this is a great item that requires some time to make but no setup before storytime. I use a pencil to punch 3 holes in each side of the box and then weave various types of string, rope, lace, thick yarn, etc. from one side of the box to the other. After tying off both ends of the string (making a knot large enough so that the material cannot be pulled back into the box can be difficult), little ones can pull on one end of the string and see what happens to the other side of the string.

How to Make

Materials: empty box, pencil, various types of thick string/yarn/rope, shipping tape

Steps:

  • Poke 3 holes with a pencil in each side of an open, empty box.
  • Weave string or rope through two holes, so each end of a string comes out of a different side of the box. Tie large knots to each end of the rope so that neither end of the rope can re-enter the box when the other side is pulled on.
  • Repeat the second step until all holes have string or textured yarn in them.
  • Use shipping tape to secure box seams and to tape the box closed.

Cost: $0-10

  • Variety of thick yarns, ropes, lace, etc.

Time to Make: 15 minutes

Pro-Tip: Consider using a tool smaller than a pencil to poke the hole in the box. Also, it may be valuable to tape the yarn or rope you are trying to weave through the box holes to a paperclip or pipe cleaner to help thicker materials move through smaller holes.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • Can you pull the string all the way through?
  • Which string is the widest?
  • Which string is the softest?
  • How does the string feel?
  • What happens if you pull the ribbon?
  • How long can you make the ribbon?
  • What color is the ribbon?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Broad
Bumpy
Flat
Knot
Long
Narrow

Prickly
Pull
Push
Sheer
Short
Small

Smooth
Soft
Straight
Thin
Through
Twisted

Baby Play: Water Play

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Babies love getting messy as they explore their world. Water play is an easy way to dip your toe into messy play without risking anything too problematic for your space or for your little ones. When using water, I warn parents at the beginning of storytime and provide plenty of other activities during Discovery Time in case parents would prefer to keep their little ones away from the potential mess.

Water play can be as simple or advanced as you’d like. We don’t have a water table, so I use clear plastic tubs filled with about 1-2 inches of water, placed on top of tarps. When selecting a tub, make sure to think about how easy it is to move when filled with water and how far you need to move it, if you are using it after a storytime.

You can include any number of activities with water play, including just putting out a bin with water and no additional items. Some of my favorites more elaborate activities include:

  • Foam Shapes on Windows: When wet, foam sticks to windows (or mirrors). If you have windows low enough for little ones, consider placing water play nearby.
  • Hand Colanders: I have a collection of hand colanders from the Dollar Tree and Walmart that I put out with a collection of Duplos, pool noodle pieces, and other items that float. Small hand colanders (with a handle like a serving spoon) are great for scooping.
  • Will it float? Give little ones a variety of water-safe items–some that float and some that don’t. I like to use baby bath toys, ball pit balls, pool noodle pieces, foam shapes, Duplos, rubber ducks, shaker eggs, and more.

How to Make

Materials: tub, water, tarps, play toys as desired (foam shapes, hand colanders, and other items like those listed above), paper towels

Steps:

  • Fill tub with 1-2 inches of water before program.
  • Either before program starts or during playtime, lay tarp on ground.
  • Place bin on top.
  • Put other items nearby, including paper towels for parents.

Cost: $10

Time to Make: < 5 minutes

Pro-Tip: Pick a warm day! Water play is fun every day, but no one is excited to take a potentially soaked baby outside in frigid temperatures.

Pro-Tip 2: If you are putting out items like foam shapes or hand colanders, don’t also put them in a bucket or bowl. Babies will figure out that the items in the container can be dumped iout and the container can be used to carry–and spill–water.

Pro-Tip 3: Use one tub exclusively for water play for safety (no risk of paint particles coming off a container and floating in water a baby may swallow).

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • Which items float? Which items sink?
  • What does the water feel like?
  • What does the pool noodle feel like?
  • Can you pick something up with the colander?
  • Can you make a foam shape stick to the board?
  • What color is your foam shape?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Aquatic
Damp
Dip
Drenched
Drift
Drip

Dry
Float
Grasp
Pour
Sail
Saturated

Sink
Soaked
Sodden
Soggy
Sopping
Wet

Conference Presentation: Baby Time Boredom

My coworker, Sarah Simpson, and I have the pleasure of presenting to our colleagues at the 2019 Ohio Library Council Convention and Expo today about our passion and programs for babies. Hopefully some of you reading this post had a chance to see our presentation (and learn some fantastic babywearing dance moves).

Check out these posts for some more information about some of the programs and activities we mentioned:

All of the handouts we shared can be downloaded or printed below.

STEM for Babies & Baby Toy Collection Purchase Guide

DIY Baby Play Activities

Baby Programming Resources

If you have any questions about our presentation or if you would like to learn more, comment below or email us at:

  • Annamarie Carlson, acarlson@westervillelibrary.org
  • Sarah Simpson, ssimpson@westervillelibrary.org

Baby Play: Play Mats

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

In most of my baby play posts, I talk about items that are easy and relatively cheap to replicate, often with items found around the house or at Dollar Tree. I love using play items like cereal boxes and straws and taped toys because they provide parents with ideas that they can easily recreate on their own and remind everyone that baby toys don’t have to be super expensive.

However, if a library has the budget, it can also be nice to provide some of those more expensive play items. For more affluent parents, you are providing them an opportunity to test out some baby items before making the decision to purchase something. For those families with less funds, you are giving their little ones an opportunity to interact with a type of toy they may not be able to experience at home.

Play mats and soft climbing and building blocks are perfect examples of more pricey baby play equipment that may not be ideal for many homes. In addition to being expensive, these take up a lot of room (storage is a definite consideration for a library as well).

Due to the size of these items, babies interact with these tools differently than they do with many of the make-at-home play ideas. Those make-at-home activities almost always focus on fine-motor skills and sensory exploration; play mats and equipment help develop large gross motor skills, for crawlers, wobblers, and walkers.

Recommended Purchases

Play mats and equipment are not cheap–a good collection could cost your library $200+. However, for our library, these items have become a staple in all of our baby storytimes. The mats and climbing cubes are used 2-4 times a week, with at least 10-15 babies interacting with the equipment per storytime play session. Since purchasing our set late last year, these tools have been used in at least 100 programs, including weekly storytimes, preschool and school-age programs (as parts of obstacle courses), and special baby and toddler programming.

IKEA PLUFSIG Folding gym mat

PLUFSIG Folding gym mat, green, 30 3/4×72 7/8 “ – $34.99
https://www.ikea.com/us/en/p/plufsig-folding-gym-mat-green-90278927/

My coworker found these fantastic folding gym mats at IKEA. They fold up to a reasonable size (18″ W x 31″ L x 5″ D), allowing us to stack them on top of each other in our storytime cupboards. We wipe them clean each week.

BestMassage Gymnastics Mat Gym Mat Tumbling Mat 4 Pannel Foldding Gymnastic Tumbling Mat – $78.99
http://amzn.com/B00IESHCN8

If you aren’t near an IKEA or are looking for something a little bigger, these mats may work for you. Keep in mind that they are larger (they fold to 24″ W x 48″ L x 8″ D), and they cost twice as much per mat as the IKEA mats.

They are thicker mats, providing more support on hard floors. They will cover a larger area. They can also be wiped clean.

ECR4Kids SoftZone Foam Big Building Blocks – $79.99
http://amzn.com/004ZAITPO

We currently own one set of these foam building blocks. These are great for baby play, as older babies are able to stack the blocks into towers (that aren’t too heavy when they inevitably fall onto another baby), and younger babies are able to crawl onto these and sometimes pull themselves into a sitting or standing position using the blocks.

Just like the mats, these wipe clean easily.

Milliard Soft Foam Toddler Stairs and Ramp Climber Gym Toy – $72.99
http://amzn.com/B0788XVB6G

The exact ramp and stair set that we currently use isn’t available, but this set is very similar and would be a great addition to a set of soft climbing equipment. Our ramp and stair set is much more popular than the building blocks, as babies immediately see the stairs as a crawling or walking challenge. Our ramp has often turned into the setting of various science experiments with babies rolling balls and wheeled vehicles down its smooth surface.

Based on the description, this set also has a bottom strip that allows you to connect the stairs to the ramp. Our set does not have that option, and we have always used them as two pieces (though often positioned them like in the above picture).

These can also be wiped clean.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What can you build with the blocks?
  • Can you walk up the steps?
  • How far can you throw the block?
  • Can you stand on top of the ramp?
  • How fast can you make a tower?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Above
Balance
Behind
Big
Climb
Down

In Front
Jump
Giant
Over
Ramp
Short

Slide
Slope
Slow
Small
Towering
Up

Baby Play: Taped Toys

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Babies love a challenge. Making their regular favorite items just the smallest amount harder to access can be just enough to serve as an interesting distraction and build strong finger muscles needed for writing when they are older.

This is a very simple (and very cheap) project that just requires a little time ahead of a storytime to prepare. Use masking tape to tape baby-safe toys or household items to a hard surface. Favorite toys, instruments used in storytime, or bright, colorful items help make this a more appealing activity.

How to Make

Materials: hard surface (preferably not going to peel when tape is pulled off), masking tape, baby-safe toys or household objects

Steps:

  • Tape toys to hard surface. Use one long strip of tape per toy (more if working with older kids).

Cost: $0-5

  • Masking Tape
  • Hard Surface (Cardboard, Tri-Fold Board, Magnet Board, etc.)

Time to Make: 10 minutes

Pro-Tip: While cardboard is normally much easier to access, our department magnet/dry erase board, that we use for outreach, doesn’t show the damage of having masking tape peeled off repeatedly.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What toys do you see?
  • What color is that toy?
  • How can you get the toy off the board?
  • What does the tape feel like?
  • Does the toy make a sound?
  • What does the toy fee like?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Adhesive
Crumple
Flexible
Hard
Jerk
Lift

Pick
Poke
Pry
Pull
Remove
Reuse

Rip
Soft
Sticky
Stuck
Thin
Tug

Baby Play: Pipe Cleaner Colander Hats

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Babies are naturally curious about the world around them. Pipe cleaners are a fascinating tool that has an interesting texture and can be bent into a variety of shapes. The holes in a standard kitchen colander are large enough for a pipe cleaner to be woven through with nimble finger muscles.

These colander sculptures very quickly turn into awesome hats. The littlest babies enjoy putting the plain colander on their (and their adult’s) head; the older ones like making all kinds of fascinating creations by weaving the pipe cleaners into the tiny holes.

How to Make

Materials: colanders, pipe cleaners

Steps:

  • Make one sample.
  • Put out collection of pipe cleaners and colanders.

Cost: $10+ (cost depends on audience size)

  • Colanders (Dollar Tree)
  • Pipe Cleaners (packs at Dollar Tree or Walmart)

Time to Make: < 5 minutes

Pro-Tip: I typically make a sample of this particular activity to help parents understand the goal, especially is this is one of a collection of activities. Otherwise I end up with a lot of confused faces (and colander hats–there are always colander hats).

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • What do the pipe cleaners feel like?
  • What direction are you pulling that pipe cleaner?
  • What color should we add next?
  • What did you make? Is that a hat? A porcupine?
  • Can you find a purple pipe cleaner?
  • Can you twist two pipe cleaners together?
  • Can you make the pipe cleaner into a happy face?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Around
Behind
Bend
Between
Colander
Curl

Knot
Over
Poke
Prickly
Sharp
Straight

Strainer
Thread
Through
Tug
Under
Wrap

Baby Play: Texture Tiles

After each of my baby storytimes, I include a Discovery Time free-play session that encourages parents to talk to one another and to interact with their children. I include a variety of fine motor, gross motor, and sensory activities that appeal to 0-2-year-olds.

Sensory tiles have been a big hit at my storytimes (though not quite as successful as my coworker’s liquid sensory tiles–more on those in another few weeks). Various textured items are hot glued, zip tied, or otherwise secured to foam puzzle tiles.

I put these out in a big stack, and the kids decide whether they want to interact with individual tiles or if they want to connect different tiles together.

Textures can include:

  • Sandpaper
  • Cardboard
  • Bubble Wrap
  • Felt
  • Foam
  • Carpet Square
  • Craft Sticks
  • Thin Wood
  • Pom Poms
  • Googly Eyes
  • Fur
  • Memory Foam
  • Pipe Cleaners
  • Rocks/Moss
    • I found circular, pre-made thin “stepping stones” at Michaels a few years ago. The rocks seem to be permanently fixed to the thin sheet, as I’ve never had one break off. I can’t find a similar item online at the moment–if you know of something like this, please share in the comments below.

How to Make

Materials: 12″ x 12″ foam puzzle tiles, various sensory surfaces (I used what was on hand), hot glue

Steps:

  • Decide how many tiles you are going to make.
  • Cut textures to smaller than the size of the tiles (about 10″ x 10″)
  • Hot glue to attach textures to tiles (or use other adhesives as necessary).
  • After glue has dried, thoroughly test all surfaces to make sure items are stuck to the tiles.

Cost: $25+

Time to Make: 30 minutes

Pro-Tip: Make sure to check these tiles after each use, especially if you plan to attach smaller items (pom poms, googly eyes, rocks, etc.). After many weeks of using these, I have a fairly good idea which tiles will need reinforced.

Conversation Starters

Start conversations as babies play with this tool by asking questions like:

  • How does that surface feel?
  • Which texture do you like best—the bumpy one or the squishy one?
  • Can you hop on the soft part?
  • Can you walk very slowly?
  • What happens when you step on that surface?
  • What color is that texture?

Stretch Vocabulary

When talking with little ones, use big words and small words. The more new words a child hears, the larger their vocabulary will be when they start to learn to read.

Consider using some of the following vocabulary words when using this activity:

Bumpy
Comfortable
Fast
Fluffy
Hard
Hop

Jump
Lumpy
Mushy
Prickly
Rough
Slow

Soft
Spongy
Squishy
Surface
Texture
Uneven