[00:00:00] Hey, you are listening to parenting in the first three years, the place where we explore the strategies and soul of parenting from pregnancy through the first three years of life. I’m your host, Ann McKitrick. Thank you so much for joining me.

Hey there, and welcome back to the podcast. I’m so glad that you’ve joined me today. I’ve got Gabrielle Holt with me. I’m so happy to have her back because you know, Gabby is the guest on our most popular episodes of parenting in the first three years. She’s just a wealth of knowledge and love for young children, and I’m so happy to have her Today.

We’re talking about play and just things that you can be looking for as a parent. On, you know, what, what’s expected for your infant as they are around other children and your toddler and your three-year-old as they get around other kids. What, what can you look for in their interactions and how can you support the development of their play, [00:01:00] which is really the solid base of social emotional development.

So when we recorded this podcast, I was just recovering from a pretty bad bout with laryngitis and so, Please excuse my voice on this podcast episode and try to not let it bother you too much. I really apologize for it. So here we go. Enjoy this conversation with Gabrielle Hall. Gabby, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today.

I’m really excited about this topic of play and babies and toddlers and how parents can support their children as they play. So thanks so much for being here. I’m so excited to be joining you for, I think our third time as an infant. Toddler teacher. Play is one of my favorite things to talk about because it’s so essential to a child’s development.

So I’m really happy to be here with you today exploring what does that mean for infants and toddlers? I love this topic too. Um, just watching children play is one of my favorite things ever. So when would you say that babies really [00:02:00] begin playing and when do they begin playing with another person or with, with another child?

Yeah. I think when we think about play with babies, it often. The way they play in their play behaviors look different than what we would maybe expect. Um, so a baby playing at three months old is going to look different than a baby who’s playing at even four months old or five months old because their development of their cognitive language motor skills are changing so rapidly.

Um, so around three months is when we really start to see that social smile emerge. And so babies play a really basic game with us of serve and return interactions. I am. Figuring out to smile at you, and I’m really hoping you’ll have some sort of response to me and that is their very first experience.

Kind of with play, um, in terms of interacting with someone else, they are making bids for attention and they’re waiting for you to respond. And this is setting the stage for what is it gonna [00:03:00] mean to play with someone when I’m a toddler and I’m waiting to see if someone’s attention’s gonna match mine.

So, so we can play together. Um, so even as early as three months, babies are starting to. Seek out that mutual joy with someone else, which is one of their play behaviors. Something else that we also see with babies from like birth, even to about three months, is when we give them opportunities to just be in their space.

They start to explore their body. They move their hands, they kick their legs. They may look around the room because they can’t see much yet they’re just taking everything in, and that is the beginning stages of them exploring for them. Play is all about exploration. So if you have a newborn who is in this zero to three month old stage, then putting them just in a space where there’s things to look at is a good idea, is.

Absolutely, especially for a newborn. High contrast images, um, black, white, red, um, that’ll really [00:04:00] help them see something because their vision is still developing, can be really stimulating for a young baby. So even, even newborns get opportunities to play. And it’s okay to, to give yourself a chance to take a deep breath or to get something you need and to have your baby exploring on the floor even as early as a newborn.

Right. Yeah. So it’s okay to let ’em be alone for a moment, huh? It is. Definitely. So, okay, so that’s a three month old. Let’s jump forward to about eight, nine months old. What would you expect to see there? Yeah, so at eight and nine months, that’s one of my favorite ages to be with infants because they are really coming into their personalities and their ability to move, and they are so curious about the world around them.

Um, so typically around eight or nine months, babies are sitting up, maybe they’re crawling already and they’re really starting to. Explore the environment with their hands and with their mouth. Um, [00:05:00] so for your eight or nine month old baby, the way they’re playing is picking things up, trying to put things in each other, putting everything in my mouth, figuring out if I’m crawling, how far do I have to go to get to something.

If I crawl and sit up and look back, are you gonna laugh at me? ’cause I did something I did was silly. They’re really. Exploring the environment with all of their motor skills, and now they’re much more aware of others. Um, so even in an infant classroom around eight or nine months, we’ll start to see, that’s when they crawl up to, uh, the smaller babies who are spending time on the floor and be curious about them and want to touch them.

And they may start to crawl and follow each other around the room and look back at each other and laugh because they’re, they’re kind of figuring out that you are also a person. Um, you’re not just. Another thing in the room, but you are also a person just like I am a person. Right. I love that, that statement.

Oh, you’re a person too. And sometimes this, this time of development can be a little bit [00:06:00] harder for parents to encourage play because this is like your child is having all of these cognitive leaps, which are great. We want them to have that. And that with those cognitive leaps come an understanding of object permanence and with this understanding of object permanence.

Now I understand when you leave the room, you still exist. Um, you are not just gone forever. Um, you still exist in the world. Maybe you’re doing something. Having fun without me. Um, I want, I have separate, maybe have separation anxiety now or now My vision is really developed and so I’m even more attuned to faces that are familiar to me.

Um, and so now maybe I have stranger anxiety ’cause I’m able to really classify who is familiar and who is not. Um, so that amazing cognitive leap that’s allowing your infant to play in a new way and explore their environment in a new way also comes with some challenges for parents. Who are trying to support independent play because now your child’s more aware of when you leave the space.

So you mentioned independent play. Would you just describe that [00:07:00] and talk about like when you would expect a baby to begin to just entertain themselves? I. Yes, I think independent play is such a hot topic and a question I get from families a lot and I think I get questions about independent play less because of concerns about their child’s development, but more concerns with I need to be able to do something.

Um, when will my child be able to kind of manage themselves for a few minutes and. What we know about the way children’s brains develop is that they need a lot of repetition. Babies and toddlers need lots of practice with the skill in order to be able to master it and use it in a, in a way that makes sense to them, in a way that feels comfortable.

So when we start from early on, allowing babies an opportunity to just be in the environment and explore themselves. For newborns that maybe is them looking around for a four month old or five month old. Maybe that’s them being on a mat in a space that’s completely safe for them. Exploring [00:08:00] objects while you go to the kitchen really quick and you still have line of sight, but your baby is having opportunities to explore by themselves.

Um, and this is building this idea of. I can concentrate, I can work, I can have this exploration. Um, now because we are humans, um, we will always have this natural need to want to be with others. And so of course, especially if your child goes to daycare or to school during the day when they come home, they’re not gonna want an independent play.

They’re gonna want to be near you because you’re their most favorite person and they’ve missed you all day. Um, but setting the stage early on, Allowing your child the chance to explore by themselves is going to make it easier for you as they get into those top of their years because you have a yes space for them.

They know what it’s like to play by themselves. They know you always come back and play with them again. Um, they know they can come to you to have their needs met if they, they need something. Um, so it really is starting early to [00:09:00] nurture these skills that happen later. So we explored the second half of the first year.

Let’s talk about that second year. What happens for children in play during that time? Yes. Um, so from like 12 to about 18 months, um, in, in this period of a child’s life, now they’re typically upright. And so once I’m upright in walking, my hands are free for me to explore the environment in a brand new way.

Um, so now you may notice that your child is more interested in, um, putting things in one another. They’re really looking to see, um, what fits in different containers. My background’s in Montessori education. So we use specific materials where they’re able to sort from big to small or sort by shapes, um, in a way that’s open-ended.

So when we also think about the play opportunities we’re giving children, especially from this 12 to 18 month old range, when they’re really focused on how do I [00:10:00] use my hands for work? We wanna give them opportunities to play with something that they don’t need our help with. Um, some toys on the market for babies and toddlers are perfectly sized for their little hands, except they can’t do it all by themselves. Um, so when we want to start to encourage the independent play, we also have to think about what’s going to be available for my child. Can they do all the pieces by themselves? Um, so from 12 to 18 months, they’re really starting to explore and figure out how do things.

Fit together, how do things work? Um, and now we’re also starting to see more emergence of language. So we’re starting to hear some single words emerge. And what we may find during their play is they’ll start to bring stuff over to us and ask us, what’s this? What’s this? What’s this? Um, on repeat, which is a way of them playing and learning about their world, and also a way of involving you in their play.

So what about with other children? What do you see ’em doing there? Yeah. I think, um, when we [00:11:00] think about what does play with others mean, um, an infant and toddler is not going to have the same level of cooperative play or what we may refer to in child development as associative play with another child the same way that.

A three-year-old is going to have infants and toddlers as amazing as their brains are, as amazingly empathetic and curious about others that they can be. They’re still kind of egocentric. They’re still trying to figure out who I am as a person and figuring out my autonomy, and so they’re not quite able to understand the needs of.

Others yet, which means when they’re playing together, there’s not necessarily a lot of sharing behaviors. They may not be working together to a common goal. Um, it may be what we call parallel play, where two children are sitting next to each other working with the same block of Legos, but they’re building two completely different things.

There may, they’re maybe not even talking to each other unless they both grab the same block. Um, but [00:12:00] those are the beginning stages. Of their play. And so later on, as their brains develop, as they have more language, as their ability to navigate, social relationships develop, now I’m able to practice sharing in a more natural way where I’m more willing to share objects and now my imagination is bigger.

So I’m able to play cooperative games or build a farm with my friend and work together with them. Um, but that all starts through being able to play and. Explore by myself, myself, and then also being able to explore and play near others. So if you have a couple of toddlers that are playing near one another, they would not be able to share.

Is that what I hear you saying? To be honest, probably not. Um, sharing is a behavior that is learned and so it’s something that we have to practice a lot. Um, oftentimes when we think about the ways we cultivate sharing behaviors and these. Pro-social behaviors with infants and toddlers. It [00:13:00] starts through us modeling, and so a lot of times I’ll use turn taking as a way to nurture that sharing behavior.

And even if you’re as a parent, you’re at home with your child all day. It’s just you and your child. You, you’re worried your child doesn’t have experience with other children. You are their play partner. You get to model some of these behaviors and the benefit is, you know what behaviors you want modeled.

So you have the additional benefit of coaching while also being the play partner. Um, so some things that we may do to nurture sharing is talking about turn taking. Oh, I see. Right now Joey’s using the blue box when he’s done. Joey, you can pass it to Timmy. Um, so that way the toddlers understand. Standing what the boundary is.

They’re understanding that there’s a little bit of delayed gratification involved. I’ll get it eventually, and this is the visual cue that it’s my turn to have it, um, which can be helpful in navigating those situations and it does take a lot of time to develop that skill. Hun. Even some adults don’t like to share so [00:14:00] willingly, so to expect tiny humans who’ve only been on the earth for 18, 19 months to do it is, um, a little unfair.

Okay, so now let’s hop to this. The third year after a child is two in like two to three, what would you expect to see then? Yeah, from two to three, um, we see that language really explode and when we see the language explode and your child goes from two word sentences to speaking in full sentences with grammar and their, the way the language is changing is just amazing.

Um, and so when we see that explosion of language, um, we also see their ability to start to imagine. Emerge in a new way. Um, while we see babies in their second year pretend to use objects as phones, they’ll pick up a block and pretend to call you. A two and a half year old is able to say, this is my farm and this is the horse, and [00:15:00] the horse is eating the hay, or whatever it.

The play experience they’re having, they’re able to really use their imagination in a new way because they have a strong understanding of their world. So they’re able to create new things. Um, so we start to see that play emerge from just mimicking their real life experiences to mimicking memories to.

Thinking about, um, imaginary things or if your child maybe watches a show on tv, they may be mimicking that play that TV show in their play. Um, so with the development of language, we see this development of imaginative play starting around two and a half. We also may also. Start to see the emergence of a child wanting to begin those beginning stages of collaborative play.

Um, we start to see sometimes children have best friends already and they really like to play together, and there may be conflict, but we’re learning to navigate through toddler conflict and play. Um, so really from two to three is where we see that shift from primarily focusing on playing by [00:16:00] myself to now having an interest in working near others and playing with others.

It’s such a fascinating, uh, thing to explore, in my opinion, just the, the developmental stages of play because, you know, and we’re not gonna talk about older kids, but once they get past this, once they begin to really play together, it just becomes so complex and complicated, the things that kids will put together in their play, even through, you know, the end of elementary school, it’s, it’s, I think what we don’t give enough credit to.

Is these early stages of play because it’s so easy for us to see what play looks like for a four-year-old, for a seven-year-old. We see them do these big cooperative games. Um, but when children have a, so they have to have a solid understanding of the world and a way to explore and in their abilities in order to be able to start to create more [00:17:00] abstract things and to work with others.

And so when we. Allow children to progress through these stages as their development sees fit. And we don’t try to rush them into doing something that is before their time. We see that it supports their development of play at, at a later age because they have been able to move through these stages at their own pace.

Um, some children at 18 months, especially if they’re a sibling, um, if they have older siblings, they may have more interests in. Parallel play in working with others because that’s what their experience was like as a child. Um, so they may, they may naturally be more inclined to want to do what my older sibling is doing, um, versus another child who has a sibling.

They may be so tired of their sibling being around them that they really wanna stay in this independent, solitary play for a little bit longer. Um, because they, they wanna do something that their mind is telling them to do. Um, so when we allow children to really. In a way that calls to their [00:18:00] developmental needs at the moment, it’s setting them up for those later grand displays of play behaviors.

You know, as I wanna kind of go back a little bit to the materials that we have for children to play with. I’m thinking when you said that earlier, I was thinking of like those, um, shape sorters that have. The circle, circle and the square, and maybe the triangle that a young, young baby, they’re able to manage that, but then they have a star and a hexagon and all of those other ones, there’s no way that they can get those in quite yet.

And so I think, to me, that’s an example of a toy that a child would need help with. So if you are a, you know, like maybe as an expectant parent or a child, a parent of a really young child, What kind of things would you look for purchasing toys to have in the house? Yeah, I think that’s important to consider as well, especially if developing [00:19:00] independent play habits are something that’s really important to your family’s goals and values.

I think one thing to consider is that I. A lot of open-ended materials. Um, so materials that a child could use in many different ways. There’s no quote unquote right way to use the material are great for play when your child gets to be around two. Um, because now they’re really imagining, but before then some materials that are marketed as open-ended play materials may not necessarily be what your young.

Birth to two year old child is looking for, ’cause they’re looking for those strong foundations of how, how do things work. So I always recommend things like blocks or figurines or scarves or, or those type of open ended play materials for you to save them until your child’s closer to two, two and a half to get the most used out of them.

Um, and then for those. Infants and young toddlers really looking at materials that will allow your child to explore different concepts. Um, so if we take a shape sorter, for example, [00:20:00] there may be so many shapes on a shape sorter, we may not, if, if you don’t buy from a school website, you may not be able to find one that that has the perfect need for your child at 11, 12 months.

Um, but we can find ways to modify it. So with a shapes order, I’ve seen parents put packing tape to cover certain holes. Um, so that way. Only the holes are available for the three shapes that you’re working with right then, which is great because that’s a way you can modify the material to last your child a little bit longer so you’re not inundated with stuff in your house.

Uh, and then if your child decides to pull the tape off, what a great fine motor. Girl that your child is practicing right there, right? Um, so when we’re looking for materials for those birth to about two years old, I’m looking for materials that have what we call a Montessori as a control of error. So when the child is manipulating the material, there’s something that’s going to offer them correction without you having to do it.

The material will give feedback to the child [00:21:00] and the child will be able to adjust accordingly. For infants, I’m kind of working backwards here. Um, but for infants, things that they can put in their mouth that will provide a wide range of sensory experiences, um, the mouth is the most developed since organ, so everything is going to go in your child’s mouth.

And as much as possible when we can source natural materials for things so. Rattles made of wood. Um, different types of wood, beach, cherry, walnut. If you have like metal spoons and a whisk from your kitchen, um, or a silicone tether, um, it’s gonna provide a variety of different sensory experiences for your child.

And that’s going to encourage them to play because they’re gonna start to be little scientists. And see, when I do the, put this block in my mouth, does it taste the same as. If I put this wooden spoon in my mouth or what’s gonna happen when I drop this metal on the tile? What sound is that going to make?

So those kind of materials that really stimulate their senses and are materials [00:22:00] of the natural world will help your child explore and play in a new way. The idea of of putting tape over the holes that are too hard for an infant, that is just brilliant. And they really, especially if it’s the first time seeing the toy, they don’t know any better.

They just think, oh, this has three spaces. Um, and then you get to see your child’s progression of mastery. Um, you get to see, okay, they’re really easily putting these three shapes in. They’re trying to put other shapes in. Now let me take the tape off of this hole and see what they do with it. Another toy that’s really easy to make that.

Just fascinates children from 12 to 18 months old for an extended period of time, is taking an empty spice jar or one of like the pizza Parmesan shakers from a pizza restaurant. Just some sort of container that has holes on the top and letting them put Q-tips in it or letting them put. Wooden, tiny wooden dowels in it.

Like if you have coffee stirs or something like that. And they will sit [00:23:00] there and they will repeat it for hours, not in necessarily an hour at a time, but over the time of the toy they’ll, they’ll spend a whole week doing it in 15 minute increments. And that’s going to be their favorite thing because repetition is so important to the child.

And so figuring out that different things can fit in these holes is really interesting to a child. They’re figuring out their world, and so allowing them the opportunity to repeat the same thing over and over again is going to bring them joy and is gonna also save you on having to buy new toys constantly.

That’s a great idea and I, it seems as if it really would work on a child’s ability to focus and to lengthen their attention span a little bit. Absolutely. I think when we think about play with infants and toddlers, we also have to consider concentration and focus when it comes to the ability to concentrate and focus.

It’s not something that we can just do automatically. It’s a muscle that we have to [00:24:00] develop. It’s not literally a muscle, figuratively. It is a muscle that we have to develop and we have to practice and just like. Allowing your child opportunities to explore independently begins as a newborn. So does concentration.

Infants are the most mindful beings. They can just sit and be present in their environment, and when we allow them the opportunity to explore something and not interrupt them by saying, Good job or clapping for them and just let them have their moments. They’re getting that practice of focusing, of concentrating and that emerge that that continues with them through toddlerhood.

Um, I’ve seen toddlers in my toddler classroom take a piece of work and sit and focus so intentionally on making sure everything is lined up perfectly. Um, and then. Putting all the pieces incorrectly and then doing it again, and their joy is coming from their own accomplishment versus looking for us for that external validation.

And you may see at the first time your child starts to do [00:25:00] some independent play that you feel like their attention spans really short, that they’re just bouncing from one thing to another and it’s gonna take a while, especially if, uh, it’s a skill they’re still working on, cultivating for them to find.

What calls to them and calls them to concentration. And when we see that concentration in action as much as possible, we have to honor it. We have to let them kind of do their thing. I love that. So it’s best not to always be talking to your child as they, as they play, huh? Yes. Which may be contradictory from some information you hear about supporting your child’s language development because we know, um, sports casting, which is a term that sometimes we use to describe talking and narrating play.

Um, we know sports casting can be great for supporting language development, but also sometimes it can interrupt what a child’s doing and. Get them focused more on you because they’re hearing, oh, mom’s here, mom’s playing with me. I’m gonna direct my play towards mom, versus continuing to work [00:26:00] independently.

So we have to find a balance. There’s definitely a space for sports casting and it can be really helpful. Full when you’re playing with your child. And then also, if we want our children to play independently, we have to give them opportunities while we’re near to still be in their own mind of and get to play independently.

So do what feels right for you. It’s gonna take some trial and error. And if you sportscast, you’re not harming your child’s independent play. And if you don’t support cast, you’re not harming your child’s language development. You’re just figuring out the best way to support your child every day from moment to moment.

So one last question. What would you think are the advantages of families getting together and letting their children have social time together? I think one benefit to that is just the sense of community in general. Um, as humans, we’re innately driven to be near others and have community babies and toddlers, especially true [00:27:00] for them.

It’s because they wanted to make sure they were a part of our group and we didn’t leave them behind when we were nomadic people. So they had an intense need to becoming community so they could survive. And I think now the benefit is, Infants and toddlers get to have experiences with other people. If your child doesn’t go to school, they’re not gonna be stunted socially, emotionally, because they’re learning to play with all of those around them.

But when they get opportunities to explore with other children, when they get opportunities to interact with other adults, it’s just strengthening that social muscle of how do I interact with someone? How do I play with someone? And if it’s a. Community where you see these people consistently, or this is a community that will be in your life, you expect for a significant period of time.

Those early relationships that are developing will be really important for your child. As your child gets older, the play relationships will change. Um, maybe the role of the children in the community will change and the children [00:28:00] become more of the center and you’re going to sports and things like that.

But there’s a lot of benefit to finding your community and allowing your child to be a part of that community and explore, play with others. Yeah, and one thing I, I talk to moms a lot about is how having someone else come into your space in your home and learn to navigate that somebody else being in your room where your toys are, um, I think is a really good and healthy thing for young children.

And also to be able to go to somebody else’s space and navigate that as well. Absolutely. Um, so this has been really great guidance for parents as they’re helping their children learn how to play, how to play independently, and how to play with other people. Um, do you have any last, uh, words of encouragement for parents as we wrap this up?

I have two things. Uh, uh, I try to narrow it down to one, but they’re connected, so maybe we could count them as [00:29:00] one. Um, but the first thing is when it comes to supporting play behaviors, this should be one aspect of development that. We really take the pressure off of ourselves a lot. Play is, Dr.

Montessori said play is the work of the young child. And so your child is already playing in so many different ways, even if they’re not something I described on this call today. Um, so really taking the pressure off of ourselves. To make our children play because they naturally play. That is their work.

And when we’re thinking about starting to support independent play, if that’s not something your child has experience with, it’s going to take time. Just because you tried it for a week and your child is still seeking out you, doesn’t mean they will never be able to play on their own. It just means that they still need some connection with you in this moment.

So don’t give up. Keep, keep practicing their, their ability to play on their own. The other thing that I wanted to kind of encourage parents with is when it comes to concentration, a good rule of thumb that I [00:30:00] often give parents is, even though children can concentrate for extended periods of time, you have may notice your child doing something for 20, 30 minutes.

Taking their age and number in like years and multiplying it by two and three is a good way to get a range of what’s normal. Concentration. So for a one-year-old, like being able to, to do something for two to three minutes is healthy concentration. That is a good number to aim for. And it’s not always gonna be that it’s gonna be 30 seconds here, it’s gonna be five, 10 seconds, and then maybe I get two minutes here.

So even though your child may concentrate for longer periods of time, if you’re only getting. Two minutes on something or four minutes on something. That’s okay. It’s totally developmentally appropriate. Thank you so much, Gabby. You are a wealth of information. I love having you on the podcast. Thanks for joining me.

Thank you so much, Anne. I love being here. If you love today’s episode, take a minute and subscribe to our podcast. [00:31:00] And one last thing, I’d love to pray for you and your baby. If you’d like for me to. You can email me at ask@nurturednoggins.com. Your request can be as simple as just one word. Or it can include an explanation.

Either way, you can trust that I will pray for you. It’s a quiet, simple way that I can connect with you and your family and in your parenting.