All babies go through a sequence of learning to play. The first thing an infant usually does with a toy is bring it to their mouth. They have already had the pleasure of sucking on a nipple and getting milk from it. While sighted babies frequently continue to suck or chew on objects, they have the advantage of knowing something is available and will reach for it because it looks appealing. But if your baby can’t see a toy, they may not know to reach for it unless you make them aware of what it is and where to find it.

If your baby hasn’t started playing with toys the way other children their age do, the reason may be that you child can’t see them clearly and doesn’t know what to do with them because they may not understand how they work. That could be why your 11-month-old hasn’t yet tried to turn the knobs on the busy box and waits for you to do it. Or perhaps your toddler is still putting toy cars in their mouth at age two while other two-year-olds are pretending to drive their toy cars. Here are some tactics you might try to help your baby or toddler learn to enjoy toys and play independently.

Helping Your Child Learn How to Play

  • Help your child become aware of the toys they have by helping to find them, allowing plenty of time to explore them, demonstrating how to play with them, and helping to replace the toy in a specific “home.” Handing your child a toy and explaining what it is, encouraging them to explore it with their senses, and modeling how to play with it, can be a helpful introduction. Try to get toys that make sounds and let your child hear the noise, which will tell your baby where the toy is located. By holding a toy while calling your child to move or turn toward it, you can also help your child learn to find and reach for other things they want.
  • When you introduce your baby to a toy, describe it with words and touch. Sit behind your child and after giving them time to explore the toy independently, using either the hand-under-hand, let your child feel the toy while you demonstrate how to play with it. When you sit behind your baby, your hands are moving in the same direction, which makes the teaching process more natural for both of you. Hand-under-hand, in which you place your hand under your child, may be more reassuring to your baby because you’re the one reaching out to touch something unfamiliar while their hands are “riding along” on the safety of your hands.
  • Objects from the kitchen cabinet can be as entertaining as store-bought toys. For example, you can show and tell your baby how to make noise with pot covers. With your child’s hands on the covers and your hands under their hands, you can say, “Let’s make a banging noise with these pot covers. We’ll bang them together like this,” as you guide your hands toward each other. After the two of you get tired of banging, you can also take a quieter step forward by showing how to put the lids on top of the pots, again explaining what the two of you are doing, “These are pots that I cook your lunch in. Let’s put the covers back on the pots.”
  • Watch how other babies play. If a friend or family member has a sighted child about the same age as your child, it might be helpful to watch how that baby plays with toys. You could then imitate what you see that baby doing with your baby to show your child things they can do. As you enthusiastically model playing, you are teaching your child the joy of play, how to play with toys, and how to socially interact through play.
  • Another helpful tactic to use when your child is playing nearby is to describe what they are doing and suggest expanding that activity. For instance, you might say, ” You’ve pulled all the cars out of the bucket—now let me see you put them back in the bucket.” Or, “How about rolling the big car over to me,” to encourage your child to take turns in play, preparing them for play time with friends.

Helpful Tips

  • When you put a toy in your child’s crib or playpen, make sure your child knows it’s there. Let them feel it and leave it within easy reach.
  • Before your baby can sit on his own, consider lining a laundry basket or box with a soft towel or blanket and putting your child and some toys in it. This will give them a comfortable, confined space that will keep the toys close. At the same time, your child can lean against the side of the basket or box to provide support in a sitting position.
  • Because your baby may not see where a toy goes when it is dropped, consider using a play gym where toys hang down to feel. Toys that have a suction cup on the bottom are also useful because they can be put on a surface, such as a tray or table, and will stay put.
  • When your child is old enough to crawl or walk, coax them to come and get a toy by letting your child know you have it and calling to them from another part of the room.
  • By the time your child is walking, try putting the toys in a big basket or box that can be rummaged through to find a current favorite. Just be sure the basket or box is always in the same place.