Today we speak to Helen Gillies, the founder of Tots Play UK on play ideas for younger babies. Helen covers your questions on what age you can start playing with your baby, the importance of playing with your baby during the early stage, play ideas and activities for newborns and what the best activities are for babies during their first year.
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Carla: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to My Bump 2 Baby Expert podcast, where we bring experts from all over the UK to answer your questions on everything, pregnancy to preschool.
[00:00:31] Today I am talking to Helen GillIes, the founder of Tots Play, and we can be talking all about play ideas for younger babies. I hope you enjoy it.
[00:00:50] Hello, and welcome to My Bump 2 Baby expert podcast. Today, we have the lovely Helen Gillies, the founder of Tots Play UK, and we’re talking to her about play ideas for younger babies. So hello, Helen, how are you?
Helen: [00:01:08] Hi. Hi, Carla. I’m great. Nice to be here with you today.
Carla: [00:01:11] Oh, it’s lovely to have you on here. So we’re going to be talking a bit about play ideas for younger babies. Um, so can I start by asking you at what stage, um, can I start playing with my baby?
Helen: [00:01:25] You know, it’s never too early to start, to start with play. We think the play sometimes it’s like a, you know, a formal thing, that right now we’re playing, but actually with, with young babies, every interaction can be playful and every interaction is, um, part of their learning experience. So as, as a parent know, every interaction can be enhanced through sort of that playful interaction. And that can be as simple as just like sitting with your baby on your lap and making eye contact, smiling, um, swaying, talking, singing. So it doesn’t have to be like this whole big play thing. It’s really just having a nice, close interaction with your baby as they just start to get used to being in the world really and their parent is absolutely their, their favourite play thing. So you also don’t need lots of, sort of, you know, fancy toys and things at that sort of newborn stage. It’s really about those interactions with, you know, with, with the parents. Um, that are going to be so valuable and start to build their experience and their understanding of the world really. So all of that counts as play, if that makes sense. Um, it’s really about that, that kind of having that purposeful interaction with, the baby.
Carla: [00:02:44] That’s fantastic. Why is play important at this early stage then Helen?
Helen: [00:02:50] Okay. So. As I said, the play and exploration is, is how a baby learns and how they start to understand the world. So, you know, every touch, every sound, every site, every smell, every movement, um, starts to form, um, like forms a pathway in their brain and each repetition of that with each repetition, that pathway gets stronger and that’s how the brain grows and develops. And the best way to introduce all of those things is through play. And what’s lovely about that as well, is that it really helps to build that, that bond between parent and child, um, and, and help them get to know each other because you know, those first few days, weeks, months really, it’s, it’s really a play, you know, you’re just getting to know each other and, and just spending time focused on each other and then each other’s company is, is a great way to, um, you know, to build that bond, to get to know each other and just to build some of those, those playful interactions that I was talking about. You know, sort of just talking to your baby, just maybe singing into the, moving them around, just showing them what’s going on. As you go about your day, all of that. Um, it’s really going to help their development, their understanding, their brain development, physical development, and to help that bond with a parent as well.
Carla: [00:04:14] That’s fantastic. That’s very interesting. So what are the best activities then Helen, for a newborn?
Helen: [00:04:21] So, as I mentioned, you know, you can really start very, very simply. So just some simple interactions, even things like, you know, sitting with your baby propped up on your knee. Um, they’re about 20 to 30 centimetres away from you. That’s the, that’s a great. Um, distance for them to be able to focus on you.
[00:04:39] Um, simply, you know, start by making eye contact, smiling, talking to them. You can, you can do things like make different facial expressions, smile, frowns, stick out your tongue, do big blinky eyes. Um, Yeah, first year, baby will watch that, they love faces. So they’re going to watch all of those, um, different movements and the interactions really, really closely. And then later on, as they get, as they get bigger, you’ll see them start to actually try to imitate and copy some of those as well. And then you can just, you know, start to move your face from side to side or away from it, towards your baby. And again, they’re going to follow those movements with that with their eyes and with their heads, that’s going to help with that visual development and tracking.
[00:05:22] You can also help them to get to know their body as well, because they, initially babies don’t know that they’ve got all these different body parts. So if they, if kind of like a hand goes past their face, they don’t realize this it’s their hands and it’s attached to them. Um, so actually doing simple activities that sort of move the different body parts around and show them kind of linking up. And babies are naturally really inquisitive and they want to start learning about their body and what it can do with it and about the world around them. So just gentle touches and strokes and body movements can all really help with this process. So yeah, you can just lay, either have them on, on your knee as we talked about propped up or lay them down on the floor and just stroke them from, you know, from head to toe slowly, keeping lots of eye contact. That’s a great way. And just keep talking to them. Um, If you’ve got something like a feather, you could use that too, to tickle over the different parts of your baby’s body. And then, um, once you’ve kind of like touched a little part, if you’ll give her a kiss and tell them what that, that body part is called. So, you know, you can say, Oh, this has baby’s shoulder, or this has baby’s belly, and this is baby’s knee. And all that starts to build language development and things as well, but also helps with that sensory awareness. So just really simple things. A mirror is another great thing. So you can show, you can sit with your baby and have, um, hold a mirror or in front of a mirror and hold a mirror in front of you and see the two of you in that. And then you can make the eye contact through the mirror and you can show your baby their face and touch the different parts of their face and talk about those and those names.
[00:07:08] Um, And then things like, you know, just stretching out like their arms. You could again, lay them down on the floor and just slowly and gently lift their arms above their heads and out to the side, give them a little stretch. Um, never force any movements always really take it slowly and gently and at your babies pace. And they can do the same with the legs just give them a gentle stretch. And then maybe even a little bit of massage on different parts of their body, um, as well is, is great. All of that helps them to learn about their bodies and, um, has lots and lots of other benefits as well. And the other great thing with, um, with babies is, is movement. So just moving around with your baby that really helps kind of, they’re both their physical and their brain development. Um, so just taking them up, just carrying them around the room with you, um, as you go and sort of narrate your day is a great way to, um, to, to kind of have that playtime with your baby. So as you go through your day, you know, you kind of go, Oh, we’re going into the kitchen where, I’m putting the kettle on, we’re going to fill it with the water and you can hear the sounds of the water, simple things like that. Um, and all that movement moving around um, is helping to teach your baby things like gravity, balance, distance, coordination, spatial awareness, all those different things. Um, and you can also try some different movements as well. So you can just hold your baby nice and secure in your arms and just turn around on the spot. Or you can just lift them up in the air and, um, and, and dip them down and sway them from side to side. So all of those things are great for, um, say both their physical and their brain development. And to make it even more fun just pop some music on just dance with your baby, just hold them in your arms. Um, pop some music on and sway, dance around. Um, and, and that’s a lovely way just to have again, that, that, that closeness, that bonding time with, um, with your little one as well, and the music again, adds another element. It makes it really engaging. Um, it helps that their listening skills, their auditory development and, um, and it’s just fun. And sometimes we get a little bit caught up, especially in those early days about doing the right things. Like what should I be doing? How should I be helping my baby’s development?
[00:09:30] And actually, if you’re just interacting with your baby. If you, if you can just spend some focus time with them, um, and do any of these simple things, um, then you’re doing lots of things that are really going to be beneficial. So rather than worrying too much about, you know, this developmental thing and that developmental thing just enjoying this time with your baby really is one of the best things I can suggest.
Carla: [00:09:55] Definitely. Gosh, there’s some fantastic ideas there. So that’s for, also for newborns. They’re all included in that side, but have you got any idea of what activities are good for babies during their first year as a, as a whole.
Helen: [00:10:11] Yeah, absolutely. So you can continue doing all of those types of things and just develop them as, as your baby gets a little bit bigger. Um, but there’s lots of other things that you can do as well. So when you, um, when a baby’s born, their bodies fully developed but the brain, isn’t as well. So brain development in the first year is very rapid. So all the different experiences, the more sort of different types of experiences you can give them.
[00:10:37] Um, especially in that first year really helped to shape that development. And again, the best way to do that is through playing is just through those sort of interactions and, and open them up to different experiences. Um, so. Lots and lots of things you can try. Some, some great things for, um, for babies sort of from, you know, from birth and, and upward to towards a year.
[00:10:59] Um, baby massage is a lovely thing to share with your baby. Um, again, it can really help with bonding and getting to know each other. It can help also provide relief from things like, um, colic, wind and constipation. It stimulates all the senses, um, and helps build muscles and, and. And things as well, but it can also help baby relax and to, um, it kind of promotes deeper, more restful sleep, which is something well, most parents are looking for.
Carla: [00:11:26] Yes absolutely.
Helen: [00:11:29] Um, but it’s actually can be really. Yeah. Once you kind of got an idea of, of, you know, learned a few simple strokes, again, this doesn’t need to be complicated, just a few simple strokes is all you need to kind of, um, have a lovely, full body massage for just a few minutes at a time and you can build that up. Um, and once you’ve kind of got the hang of a few of those strokes, it’s actually really, it’s really lovely for, for the parent. That’s that’s doing it as well. It’s, it’s really kind of soothing for both parties and can really help you kind of relax ,for them to relax. And again, form that bond together. It’s a great thing for, so often, you know, most commonly, I guess mum is the one that, that does a lot of the caregiving and, and these different things. So massage is a lovely thing to be able to, for other family members too, to be able to do as well. If they’re kind of to, to build that bond. With, um, with baby and get that closeness to, um, so all really helps with that kind of general growth and development.
[00:12:27] So massage is a lovely, lovely place to start. And then moving on sort of, as babies getting a little bit older, then you can bring in some sort of baby yoga, which really sort of adds movement to a lot of the elements and the benefits that we get from, um, from massage. So it’s another great way to enjoy the focus time, um, with baby and combines that movement, and touch. And what you can do with baby yoga, so you can give babies sort of a full body workout, um, in a way that’s really gentle and won’t overstimulate them. So. It’s again, that this type of movement is great for both the brain development, the nervous system. Um, again, neither of which are fully developed at birth. So they’re all helping with that overall development. Um, as well as again, being at that lovely bonding experience and helping to build things like strength and flexibility. And because each, in yoga kind of each stretch is counted with, with relaxation, then it can help baby to feel more settled and better able to relax themselves. So again, all leads to kind of better sleep. I always say to parents in that, that kind of those first few months, if you want your baby to sleep better, baby massage, baby yoga and swimming are the top three things to, to do with them.
Carla: [00:13:49] Definitely. I think we can agree yeah that is a very difficult time, uh, that first couple of months trying to get through each day and each night. So, yeah, they’re fantastic ideas Helen. Thank you so much for those. Um, so Helen, can you tell us a bit more about Tots Play, where people can find you and the benefits of your classes?
Helen: [00:14:09] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s a few other things that, I can suggest too for playtime’s as well. And all of the things that we’ve talked about. And so I’ll share a couple more now as well. Things that we, that we do within our, um, our classes. So our classes are all about sort of development through play and helping parents. Supporting parents through the, through these early stages really. Cause you know, it’s, it’s a tough thing to, uh, to do to, you know, to have a new baby, your whole world’s a little bit turned upside down. So as well as, as giving lots of ideas and opportunities for, you know, for planned development, then what we also want to do is kind of give parents a place to come and have a safe space and format, you know, friendships and a community. So that can really help through those days. That’s where most, you know, those, those days are long. The years are short, as they say, don’t they? So, um, so there’s a lot of different. Um, ideas that we introduced to our classes. So massage and yoga are two of them, uh, music is another great way. I mentioned it briefly. Um, but especially as babies start to get a little bit older, simple instruments and, um, and just sort of playing some music with them and having them, you know, Tap along or, you know, you can hold the instrument for them. And then just kind of shake that along, or maybe tap two sticks or two wooden spoons together, start to develop rhythm. And, um, and again, language skills from, from music and nursery rhymes and things are all really, really beneficial. Um, at the stage, another thing we cover in our, um, we have a special course for younger babies called our baby development course where we kind of go into, um, A bit more detail about how the different things can help and benefit your baby. And one of the things that we talk about there is tummy time, and that can be another thing where parents are kind of going, Oh, I don’t know how to do this. You know, I put them down on the floor and they just scream. Um, and it’s just about some simple tips to make it. Um, a little bit easier for babies to get started a little bit more fun, a little bit more engaging. And, um, but there’s, you know, really simple things, things like just propping them up a little bit on a towel, things like having them on your chest and then maybe propped up on your knees, giving them things to, um, to engage with.
[00:16:34] So we use like a beach ball and we put them on the beach ball and they can get some movement while they’re on their tummies and, and, and lots of mummies are absolutely amazed. How, how much they’re their babies just immediately change their, you know, their view really on tummy time and they go oh yeah, I’m up here. This is quite fun. I’m moving around. I can see what’s going on. Um, and they find it quite relaxing as well.
[00:16:57] So there’s lots of different types that we can kind of give around that as well. Um, and then the other big thing. And the other thing that I’d really recommend for certain during the first year is, um, is different types of sensory plays. So again, babies love most from interacting with their environment, rather than from sort of passive observation. Um, and sensory play really lets them engage and explore the world and in their own ways. So again, this can be really, really simple. So, you know, we think sensory feel gotta have expensive sensory toys and go to a sensory room or something like that. But actually it just starts with what you’ve got at home. So have a look around your house for different things, with different textures, just, you know, household items. So it could be things like, um, Yeah, with a sponge or, um, a wooden spoon or a brush or different fabrics. So just letting your babies just explore and interact with those things, um, is, is ideal.
[00:17:59] You know, that they are going to explore in their own way and they’re learning so much from all of those interactions that they’re kind of like little scientists they’re forever doing experiments. Like what, what does this feel like? What does it, is it hard? Is it soft? Is it, is it warm? Is it cold? And that, that kind of thing. Their brain is working to figure all these things out. Um, so what parents can do is just give them the opportunity to have these experiences and explore. So touch is a simple one. Um, the, um, make sounds so you can, you can make. Um, talk to them a little bit about instruments. If you’ve got some instruments at home, that’s great, but you can make simple ones at home as well.
[00:18:37] So you can make just a simple shaker out of like a plastic bottle and just popping, maybe make a couple of different ones and put different things in them, just like rice, pasta, dried beans, and then we’ll make a slightly different sound when you shake them. And, and you also given a little bit of cause and effect. So when you shake something, it makes it sound, um, for example, um, Smell smell is often a thing that we don’t think about introduce into, um, into play time, but it’s a really strong sensory babies. They, they learn an awful lot from what they can smell. So again, if you maybe you’re cooking and you’ve got some Herb’s or something like that, and just, just let your baby smell a few, um, you know, smell them or anything. That’s got an interesting smell. You can just like give them. Give them the opportunity just to, to, um, to experience that as well. Um, and then, um, different ways with, with that sense of sight as well. So we talked about things like, um, having them follow you with their eyes as, as when for, for the younger babies. So with older ones, you can do it in different ways. You can move objects, um, in front of them. Peak a boo games are amazing. So, um, just like a little light scarf or just hide behind your hands and then, and then peek out again. So it helps babies to focus on what they’re seeing. And it also helps them to understand, um, the theory of object permanence, that when that something continues to exist, even if you can’t see it and that’s, again, something, it takes them a few months to really understand.
[00:20:11] So just a simple peekaboo games are a great for that. And another thing that babies absolutely love in our classes, um, is bubbles. So from all ages, right from, from birth, right the way up to
Carla: [00:20:24] My age.
Helen: [00:20:27] Exactly. Yes. Beyond. Yeah. I think the parents enjoy bubbles as much as. So that’s great again, that, you know, they can watch the, you know, that they’re going to watch the bubbles float around and, um, you know, they can track them with their eyes. And it’s amazing how often we’ve seen in our classes, but, you know, you can have a baby that’s maybe just having a little bit of a moment about that and just not quite happy. And then you put the bubbles on and it’s like magic, they’re suddenly like, Oh, wow. I’m watching the bubbles and that, that upset is immediately forgotten. So
Carla: [00:21:01] I always have had a bubble machine in the cupboard ready for those moments.
Helen: [00:21:05] So yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Um, but when you’re home as well, just like taking them out for a walk and, um, again, letting them experience everything around them then, you know, the sights, the smells, the sounds, et cetera. So everything that we do at tots play is about how can we make the simple things that we’re going to do in our everyday lives make themselves sort of meaningful in terms of, of development and bring some sort of playful elements into those as well.
[00:21:32] We also introduced sign language, which can help with that communication and reduce frustration. Um, but everything that we use in classes is. It’s really sort of simple, easy or inexpensive to, um, to find, to make. So all of these sensory things, which has been, um, you know, great when people are, you know, we really encourage people to do this at home as well. So it’s not just about coming to a class and do these things. It’s about actually here’s some different ideas and different activities, um, that, that you can try and different. Baby’s going to like different things. So take all the ideas, try a few at home and see what your baby, um, likes and responds to. And, you know, you can then follow your baby’s interest.
[00:22:15] So if they, you know, if they really like music, then you know, you can. Get some more instruments and do some more of that. If they really like particular sensory experiences then you can do more of those as well. So we really encourage parents to get to know their baby and what they like, what they respond to, um, and to trust their own instincts in how to play, engage in and interact with their little one. And, and that’s, you know, through our classes and everything that we do. Um, it’s all about sort of helping parents to get the most out of, out of this time with their little ones, it’s such a precious time. And, and despite how it feels at the time, it does go quickly. Um, so the more that we can do to really help and support and encourage these, these playtimes these interactions and, and just having some fun with that little one, um, is, is what we’re all about really.
Carla: [00:23:04] That’s fantastic. Helen, that has been so interesting because I think when you’re a new mum, especially, and even if you, you, first, second time, mum, it, day to day life sometimes you forget to kind of the you know, a jar of pasta would be so interesting to a child and stuff. So I think all of that, that you’ve said it has given some great ideas. And the benefit of going to classes is obviously you, you’re going to be meeting other mums and, and interacting with other people, which I think is really good for mum’s mental health as well. Cause it can be quite lonely being a mum and being at home. So I love those.
Helen: [00:23:42] Yeah its a big part of what we do the more, the more, you know, the, the, the happier mum is. The happier baby is going to be as well. So, you know, that’s a big part of, you know, we need to look after mums so that they can look after their little ones and get them the best experience. So it’s very much about, you know, both of, both of them together. So, you know, that’s one of the great thing to come to, to, um, to classes is that they get to realize that it’s not just them, you know, every, every mum is going through something, you know, at different stage and, and hopefully they can feel like, you know, they’re not alone and there’s support therefore them and, um, but you know that everyone has good days and bad days. And it’s great to share both of those experiences with others in a sort of similar situation.
Carla: [00:24:27] Yeah. And I think going to classes as well, it makes you see that, you know, sometimes social media is great, but it can be one of those places where you’re looking at. It’s like, Oh my God, they manage that today I’ve not managed anything. And so go into classes actually gets you interacting with parents and being open and hopefully making, you know, you feel good as well. So, so that is, that is brilliant, Helen. So where, where can parents find you then?
Helen: [00:24:53] Okay. So everything that we, um, all of our, uh, classes and, and services and things you can find festival on our website, which is www.totsplay.co.uk . Uh, we also have, um, uh, social media accounts. So the, the main ones that we, um, are on all the time, um, uh, Facebook page, um, which is just facebook.com/totsplay and Instagram as well, which is @totsplayHQ. We also, um, have set up a group where we share lots of play ideas and we have kind of the online sessions that people can join in with as well, which is called Tots play Families.UK. So, um, I’d love everyone to come and join us there as well as it’s completely free to join.
[00:25:44] And you can, um, have a go at some of the things, uh, meet some of our, uh, our franchisees that, that run the, our lovely classes around the country. And, um, you know, we’ve got lots of play ideas and lots of ways to kind of chat and interact with other parents there. So, you know, come and join us in any of those places. You know, we’ve, we’ve um, got. The courses, physical classes when we’re able to run them across the UK. And, you know, obviously we’ve got online classes and online courses as well. So hopefully wherever, wherever you are, there’s something, uh, something there for, um, for you. And, you know, we’d love to, to help support you through these early stages with your baby. So come and join us.
Carla: [00:26:26] Excellent. And Helen, just one last question that popped into my mind with baby massage. What, when should you, when can you start that? Um, just so parents have got a bit of an idea of, of when they can get started.
Helen: [00:26:38] Yeah. So again, you can start some simple gentle massage, right from birth. Um, we, our big development course that I mentioned, um, briefly is, um, it’s a six week course. We’ll be covering a lot of these different things that, that I’ve talked about. And we, um, we do, we cover a full body massage routine in that course. And, um, and then that’s available from birth. So it’s always about taking everything at baby’s pace. So we very much have parents kind of tune into the babies and just take everything slowly and gently, but they can start a few simple massage strokes right. From, you know, when they’re ready. Um, and then build that up as, as baby gets a little bit older.
Carla: [00:27:20] That’s great. So parents can, if they need to get out of the house ASAP, really with the newborns and start baby massage courses and stuff like that. So that’s fantastic, Helen. Thank you.
Helen: [00:27:31] No problem at all. Yeah, no, absolutely. And you know, everybody’s different. So some people already, almost straight away to go and start meeting people and things and others, it takes a little bit longer. We completely get that as well. So it’s, you know, we aim to, to, to, to meet you where you are and now come along. We will, um, it’s all the classes are very much baby led. So it’s all about doing what your baby needs when, when they need it. So even if you know, you can’t do everything in the class. As I talked about previously, now we give you all the skills or the ideas that you can take home and do that at a time. But yeah, there is a good time for babies because we know they don’t always work on our schedule and, you know, happy and alert and ready to play it at the class time. Um, so. Yeah, all our sessions are about yes. Come along and enjoy the time with us. But actually don’t worry if your baby doesn’t get to do to do everything during class time, because we’re going to give you the skills that you can go away and get all those benefits at home as well.
Carla: [00:28:33] That’s fantastic. Yeah. Brilliant learning as you go as well. So that’s great. Um, Helen, thank you so much for coming on and talking to us, it was so interesting. Um, Listening to you. And, um, what we’ll do is we’ll add all the show notes, all your links into the show notes. So people can find you that way with the groups that you mentioned too.
Helen: [00:28:54] Okay. Wonderful. Okay.
Carla: [00:28:56] Thank you, Helen.
Helen: [00:28:57] Thanks so much. Take care, everyone.
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- Play Ideas for Younger Babies