At my babies' first Christmas, they received a ton of toys from friends and family (lucky little tykes). I thought the toys were pretty cool -- hey, a lot I'd put on our wish list myself -- but for the most part, the boys seemed more interested in getting back to their favorite basics like their alphabet links, their bendy O-ball, even their utterly entrancing burp cloth.
It made me realize that babies at this age -- under 6 months -- don't need a whole lot of bells and whistles to be entertained. In fact, I've noticed that my babies seem to explore even more when they're just laying on the floor with a few simple links spread around them. Clearly, I've been suckered by the baby toy industry.
I probably should have realized this a month or two back. I'd been putting them on their activity mat from the moment it looked like they were able to focus, and over time, they began swatting at the hanging toys, ultimately pulling on them. I was so impressed with how it had developed their fine motor skills, helping them to discover their little hands and what they could do. But, I also started to feel like these mats were maybe a one-trick pony. Sure, they were using their hands and all of that, but they weren't doing much of anything else...including interacting with me or each other.
So, I decided to take them out from under all that stimulation, and give them more time just kicking around on the open floor. It's not like I hadn't been doing that, but the mats had seemed so much more, I don't know, educational. Well, once they started spending most of their time just together on a blanket, it's like the whole world opened up for them. They started grabbing toys that were right beside them, moving each one from hand-to-hand, putting them in their mouths, holding them up in the air to inspect them. They would both grab on to the same bendy ball and pull back and forth. They also started to reach and touch each other more, no longer distracted by all the brightly-colored plush toys hanging in their faces. Plus, with all of this extra room, they started experimenting with rolling. Geez, why hadn't I done this sooner?
Why? I think because I'd totally been swayed into believing that you needed fancy toys to help your babies learn. But, hello, did Steve Jobs have an activity mat? Did Oprah have a plastic dog that played classical music? I think not! I believe, and have read several articles speaking to this, that babies actually learn best when they're left to their own devices a bit. They don't need Mommy in their faces every waking minute. They don't need constant sound and activity throughout playtime. No, sometimes they need to just...be. Of course, I'm there in the room with them and I interact with them plenty, but they don't always want to watch "The Mommy Show."