Jasmine: We’ve had some episodes of haze and illness that have prevented us from bringing Dylan out, so we decided to adapt or invent our own games for days in! These activities are suitable for babies between 6-12 months- babies that age are concrete thinkers who need to learn about cause and effect, and are also gaining early mobility (think crawling or cruising along furniture) so whatever gets them to exercise their gross motor skills works, too!
Virtually no money is needed, and unlike those humongous toys that take up precious real estate in our small HDB living rooms, these toys can be returned to the kitchen once baby has tired of it!
We’ve arranged these in order of how easy it is to execute these ideas, starting with the easiest and fastest.
Superduper-easy: Sticky ball
Jasmine: The easiest and cheapest of the lot, the tin foil ball with sticky tape wound all around it also had Dyl returning to it again and again. Not only was he trying to figure out why the ball kept sticking to his hand, it had an audible tacky sound that was very gratifying to hear as he peeled it off himself.
Of course, the sticky ball tends to wind up in funny places, like a bobtail on his bum (innocent look from the mum):
Super-easy: Pull-out tissue box
Andrew: He’s still at that stage now actually – and now that he can put his hand on surfaces and lift himself up, he actually tries to reach for the tissue box on top of the TV console. He gets so much joy just tearing the tissue out of the box.
Jasmine: This probably doesn’t count as DIY, but varying the kinds of books Dylan has keeps him endlessly entertained, day in day out. As mentioned earlier, babies this age are very tactile learners, so this touch-and-feel book which we found at a MPH sale and has a whole spread of penguins with different types of fur, is one of his favourites. I have also seen enterprising mums DIY touch-and-feel books, by sticking scraps of fabric onto cardboard, and including one-word descriptions of the colours, patterns or textures e.g. "green", "swirly", "rough".
Jasmine: I also have renewed gratefulness for our public libraries, which stock a wonderful range of children’s books in Mandarin. Andrew has been so faithful in borrowing new books every few weeks. This is a gorgeous one, a Chinese adaptation set on the High Line (a railway converted into outdoor sky garden) in New York, which was one of our favourite honeymoon spots. )
Jasmine: When I went back to work, we also DIY-ed a miniscule photo album for Dylan, of all his favourite people. Don’t ask me why there’s a disproportionate representation of Dylan’s own face though, heh. Research shows that babies, even newborns, are attracted to human faces more than objects and will stare longer at them, and this was true for our Dilly.
Andrew: I *think* we’ve written about this previously, but Dylan also enjoys this electronic book about nursery rhymes which is a combination of light and sound. That book used to be the miracle cure to stop him from crying and would keep him occupied endlessly. He has moved on now to new books, but we are always very cautious when we let him ‘play’ with paper-books, because the same tendency to rip tissue paper out of the box applies here too. He has taken apart one of our books and the Rhyme Bible which we read to him every night has also been torn. We wanted to teach him the value of books by taping back the torn books, but haven’t gotten down to doing it.
Super-easy: Treasure baskets and peekaboo boxes
Jasmine: This is one Montessori idea that has become a permanent fixture in our home. The philosophy behind the treasure basket is that it is a "collection" of textures and colors for babies to explore. These can be objects with no relation, or objects with a similar theme e.g. different kinds of fabric or music-makers), so that babies can learn to discriminate among them, which is a key way of making sense of their world.
We bought a picnic basket for Dylan from Bali (because the flip top provides added fun for the baby to open up and look into) and filled it with 3-4 objects, so as not to overwhelm baby’s senses. I will rotate one object out every week so there is something new for him to explore.
Now that Dylan is older and is eager for more stimulation, I have three treasure baskets for him in his play area, one for fabric and dress up (extreme right), one for noise-making objects and "un-toys" e.g. wooden spoon/ egg whisk (middle), and one for his beloved books (left). I was also looking left and right for a missing toy when to my surprise, I discovered that Dylan had also placed the velcro fabric sandwich from his new picnic set from Auntie Ruth and Uncle Roman inside the fabric basket. Discriminating similar textures already, baby boy?
Jasmine: Another adaptation would be to fill a box with some Polaroids for quick peekaboo fun. We initially tried to include Dylan’s sonogram but took it away for fear that he would decimate the original with copious amounts of his saliva. Perhaps we should revisit this idea as a way to introduce his baby sister to him? Heh.
Easy: Water play
Jasmine: Water play is a firm favourite with our little one. When Dylan had 39.3 degree fever and was crying nonstop, this bucket of bath toys and a scoop (actually just a small Tupperware) kept him amused for 30 whole minutes. We didn’t mind him splashing it all over himself, as that helped to bring the fever down. We did dry and change him after… I think. Haha.
Jasmine: Another adaptation with less spillage involved filling a ziploc bag (actually for our nuts and fruits mix) with tikam-tikam and tin foil animals. This was like the DIY version of those fancy splash mats but done at no cost. Dylan liked patting it to make the animals "move" but the water play in a bucket sustained his attention far longer. This would also be just the right size for a high chair tray, to keep him engaged until his food arrives.
Jasmine: Instead of going to costly baby spas, my cousin Steffy purchased an inflatable pool for baby Agnes and invited us over to use it. The difference between the pool and our normal baby bathtub is that the former is much deeper, and can comfortably seat an adult AND a baby. I didn’t bring any swimwear, so we put Dilly in the neck float (included with Steffy’s pool) and he was very happy floating about… until a spurt of water from the shower hose hit him square in the forehead. Oops.
Andrew: I personally can’t wait to bring him to actual swimming pools because I love swimming a lot. Hope my little boy will also enjoy swimming just as much as I did. 🙂
Easy-peasy: Sensory bottles and bins
Jasmine: Another really quick-to-assemble idea, which is also useful for allowing baby to safely explore bits and bobs that are too small for him and pose choking hazards otherwise, is to put them in sensory bottles! I was seriously inspired by wonderful sensory bottle collections with glitter, oil and soap, but only had the energy to assemble one with rice and markers. The rice grains move to reveal the markers underneath, to help Dylan learn cause and effect. He also liked rolling it like a rolling pin.
Jasmine: Dylan also relished getting his hands on flour. He eventually wound up sitting IN the flour. Perhaps we should have done the water play after this and made him into a meat bun 😀
Jasmine: Involving slightly more work, I brought home some shredded paper from my office and filled a large box with it, and hid some of his penguins and a Manhattan Skwish (that’s the molecule-looking toy) in it. We were initially worried that the paper might cause paper cuts, but Dylan not only emerged unscathed but came away with his penguins.
Jasmine: When we were packing our bags for Shanghai, Dylan turned our big luggage into his own sensory box. Perhaps he has absorbed some of my Montessori spiels and deduced that there were lots of furry and woollen textures for him to explore…
Jasmine: I also told my mum about how ball pools are wonderful sensory play for babies, calming them while stimulating them at the same time. The next time we visited granny’s house, granny bought a whole bag of balls and filled her baby bathtub with it. This ball pool still comes out everytime Dylan visits and he loves it. Can also be used as a boat.
Easy: Pillow path
Jasmine: This is great for teaching babies about balance. We made a pillow path from cushions and a mattress, for Dylan to climb on.
The prize for reaching the finish line e.g. the end of the mattress was Walter the inflatable bunny.
Yes, Dylan enjoyed bunny boxing just as much as he enjoyed the pillow path.
Easy: Baby in a band
Jasmine: now, in case you are wondering why this is only rated "easy", it’s because it’s extremely foolproof to put together but not as easy on the parents’ ears. The picture above is of Dyl banging to his heart’s content on a “drum set” consisting of a plastic bottle, milk tin and lollipop drum. What alot of noise one little fella can make!
Dyl also likes banging on pianos, whether it’s an adult-sized one or a baby-sized one.
Elaborate: Baby Zoo
Andrew: Okay, so this is a bit more intensive and was a brainwave that just came to me one evening when I was so bored of all the above toys (Jasmine: ahem, what did you just say??) and wanted to find a way to occupy one hour with Dillie. What I did was that I placed several of his ‘animal’ soft-toys in various locations around the house and then put him on the bike which my mum bought, and wheeled him around to explore his own zoo. I pretend to be the ‘tour guide’ as well, explaining to him the various animals along the way, like the penguin family with mummy penguin and two babies as well as the sleeping sun bear 🙂 It turned out surprisingly well and he even started ‘interacting’ with the exhibits – reaching his hands into the penguin enclosure to grab the penguins.
Jasmine: It’s been lots of fun just writing this entry and having all the good memories come back. Above all, I’m glad our little Dylan is usually such a happy baby and easy to please 🙂