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Play mat – development and fun from the very first days

When preparing a layette for a child, each parent does not only think about the right clothes, a cot or a car seat, but also about what will have a beneficial effect on the child’s development. What toys to choose and when to introduce them? What is the best surface to put the baby on? These are just a few of the questions we ask ourselves, wanting to give the child the best possible start. One of the essential elements of the layette, which will guarantee both development and fun from the first days, will be a play mat.

Play mat as a multifunctional toy

The beginnings of intercoursing with a newborn baby are not easy. You need to ensure basic needs are met, including its overwhelming desire for closeness and the sense of security. However, do not forget that the favorite position of the child which is in mom’s arms should not be the only one. The baby must be able to move freely on a medium-hard surface which, according to the recommendations, provides the best conditions for motor development. Then, a safe play mat will play its first role, which thanks to its form of a large, flat surface will provide the baby with space for exercise. It is worth remembering that the mat itself has quite a soft filling – so do not put it on the bed or bedding. Placed on the floor or foam puzzles, it will be “perfectly hard” and yet safely soft. From the very first days, it is worth placing the baby on the mat not only on the back, but also on the belly – the umbilical cord stump does not interfere with this. On the educational mat, the toddler will have perfect conditions to observe the toys around and train the ability to focus the eyesight. Vision development is gradual, but at each stage we can use the mat and interactive toys, mirrors and books hanged on it.

Initially, during the period of physiological asymmetry, the child is not yet able to keep the head in the center line. We can then encourage him/her to observe the toys from both sides. At the beginning, the baby can see better what is slightly to the side. An excellent exercise for the youngest babies will be to slowly move the contrasting element detached from the Smil mat from the side towards the center of the body. That way we help the child develop his/her eye tracking skills and encourage him/her to strive for the desired symmetry. Gradually, we also start to encourage the baby to look down- from this stage (usually in the third month of life), toys that hang at belly button height work best. Do not hang toys high above or behind the baby’s head, to avoid encouraging to bend back. When the baby begins to show more control over the body, it will be the right time to try to reach and grab the toys attached to the play mat, both those hanging on the arches and those unfastened, shown by the parent.

These skills come with time, but practice makes perfect. Thanks to the play mat, the child improves visual functions, head control and other motor skills. He/she exercises both by lying on the back and on the belly. It is worth to pay attention to the positioning of the baby on the mat and proper arrangement of toys. When the toddler, lying on the back, already reaches them, he/she can grab and pull them, it is worth placing them higher so that he/she can reach them but not necessarily pull them. In the proper development of a child, we definitely prefer games related to pushing rather than pulling. Such an activity will be, for example, trying to push off the mat while lying on the belly, thanks to which the toddler trains the support position.

Large educational mat for children will be a great field for training the first independent turns from back to stomach and the other way round, low and then high support with the observation of pictures placed under the baby, crawling attempts, pivots (i.e. rotations around the belly button) or taking the quadruped position on. Training in lying on the stomach can be facilitated by a small horn-shaped pillow attached to the mat. However, it is worth seeking advice from a physiotherapist whether it will not be contraindicated in the case of our child (this may happen, for example, for children with the tendency to bend the back). The mat will also be a great place to play for a toddler who is sitting up independently – especially if you fill it up with dry pool balls. Closed edges of the mat for younger infants will allow creating a safe playpen for free movements, body and surroundings exploration. A parent can safely place toddler, who does not yet move independently, there while doing household chores. This time will definitely not be wasted, as the interactive play mat will provide a developing time and a moment to learn to play independently.

It is worth leaving the baby alone for a moment, with toys hanging on the arches or a mirror or a book placed in front, in order to observe from a short distance on how the child copes with independent play. Such time for independent play attempts is invaluable in the child’s development

Stimulation of the senses on the play mat

The play mat is not only a base and a place to train new motor skills. Baby’s psychomotor development is inseparable from the proper functioning of the senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, proprioception, vestibular sense (balance). Many of them can receive many different stimuli when the child is playing on the mat. The ability to use them, however, develops gradually as new skills are acquired and playing becomes more independent. You do not have to worry, however, that a toddler placed on the Smil or Lykke play mat will be overloaded with an excess of stimulants. For the youngest babies we try to offer one, maximum two stimuli at a time. The colors of both mats and the lack of too intensive sound making and glowing elements in the set guarantee that no overstimulation will occur. Both delicate colors with contrasting elements and the type of toys included make the mat safe for the senses from the very first days.

Functional toys and colors of the mat play an important role in the development of the child – “contrasts” in Smil mat are not just a fashionable term. Contrasts are the only thing a baby sees at the beginning. And right after the birth, the eyesight of a baby is 30 times worse than that of a grown adult. It is the easiest for a toddler to focus the eyesight where the black and white colors meet, especially when the object is about 20 centimeters away. Did you know that it is the early experiences, i.e. the number of visual impulses and their adjustment to the child’s abilities, right after genetics, which determine how the child will later cope with various tasks? Between 2 and 8 months of a baby’s life, nerve cells work intensively to create new connections. This is the time when your baby learns the fastest and develops most of his/her visual skills. The more you can do during this time, the better, and the play mat will certainly help you with that!

The author:

Monika Adamczyk – Master of Physiotherapy, NDT Bobath neurodevelopmental method therapist, Sensory Integration therapist, hand therapist. For several years, she has been working with children with developmental needs and disabilities, as well as healthy infants whose parents are looking for information on supporting their child’s development and nursing tips. On her instagram profile – Sensifi_, she provides knowledge in a nutshell and advises how to take care of the baby and use one hundred percent of the most important time in his/her development without stress.

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