Create a play space for young babies inspired by Reggio principles, to encourage independent play, interaction with stimulating materials and curiosity about the world.
This is the first in a series of new posts about creating inviting and stimulating play spaces for children, starting with the area that we created for Baby Bean, that she has been playing in since she was just a few weeks old. We wanted something simple, stimulating, spacious and safe, and that reflected some of the ideas of the Reggio Emilia philosophy of learning.
The principals behind Reggio and Montessori educational philosophies are fairly similar, both placing a strong emphasis on the child as intelligent, inquisitive learners, capable of learning from birth, with the parent as a partner to their discoveries, learning right alongside them.
In Reggio thinking there is a belief that the environment is the “third teacher” and that it is crucial to provide children with plenty of natural light, space for movement, stimulation and access to open-ended play resources. For babies and young children it is important that these are highly tactile and varied so that they can investigate them using their primary way of interacting with the world; the senses.
We don’t have our own play room or a huge amount of floor space in our terraced, Victorian home so when trying to create a play space for Bean we had to bear in mind our restrictions. We placed her own personal play spot in a BabyDan play pen (base raised) chiefly for her own safety, as her over-eager sisters were a little too generous in their affectionate hugs in the early days! We will eventually move this to a similar set up on the floor when she is more mobile.
Comfort and Space
The space is lined with a padded mat, with an all-natural lamb skin rug which is wonderfully soft to touch. The tactile element of this rug alone is enough to make me want to hop in there and lie down myself for a little nap (wouldn’t that be wonderful?!) She touches this with hands, face and feet and it keeps her cool in summer and warm in winter. There is plenty of space for her to roll around and she has begun to choose which areas she would like to get to, rolling and stretching to reach for interesting objects that have caught her attention.
High Contrast Stimulation
It’s well known by now that young babies tend to focus the most on high contrast images, particularly black on white and white on black, followed by bright, complementary colours. There are some wonderful toys on the market that cater to this that are very well designed and of high quality. We have placed a high contrast stimulation mobile above the area, which has interchangeable image discs. These get rotated often to keep baby interested, and have a range of patterns, shapes and faces on them.
There is also a high contrast soft mat, hung over one side, that can be reversed to reveal bright colours, and has other sensory elements attached to it, along with a couple of other infant cloth books. A beautiful hand-made gift with colours, tags and a bell inside is often a favourite to grasp and shake.
Mirrors and Reflection
Along one side we have attached acrylic mirror tiles, to promote as much light and reflection as possible, a strong Reggio emphasis. All babies recognise the human face as being extremely important, even from birth, and it is the first thing they are able to focus on. Bean loves to look at herself in the mirrors and frequently babbles to her reflection, engaging in infant conversation and learning social skills as she plays.
Sounds and Textures
At this age it is not possible to apply the Reggio approach fully, in that she can’t yet have access to loose parts and open-ended materials, of course! (She can get her hands on her big sisters’ Reggio inspired Discovery Boxes
when she’s a bit bigger.) Instead, this idea has been simplified to include access to stimulating toys that promote multi-sensory exploration. In one corner there are musical instruments that make an interesting range of sounds, from jingly bells to soft shakers and rattles. These are light enough for her to hold or roll and are made of wood and metal, providing sensory contrasts in texture and temperature.
Near to the mirrors, where she can see her own face, there are some lovely Waldorf style, soft baby dolls. She loves to hold these and smiles at the larger one as though she recognises her each time she rediscovers her. She investigates their textures with her tongue too, of course!
If you’d like to read more about creating a Reggio/ Montessori environment for play and learning, read the wonderful An Everyday Story. For ideas to encourage Montessori activities at home, visit How we Montessori for inspiration.
Looking for baby play ideas? Here are 20 activities for 6-18 months olds
Bean is 5 months
Have you created an intentional play space for baby? Feel free to share a link in the comments!