When Sheila’s daughter, Maia, was around seven weeks old, Maia had her in her little reclining chair in the kitchen while Sheila was getting the dishes done. Maia was happy looking around and taking in the sights, but when she started to grizzle and complain, Sheila stopped what she was doing and decided it was time for some play. She picked up a toy she had been given as a gift when she was born, a small, soft, bee-shaped rattle. It had tiny little wings on each side, just perfect for baby-sized hands, small antennae on the top and a rattle inside its belly.
Sheila had been gently tickling the palms of her daughter’s hands with the wings of the bee in the hope that her grasping reflex would be stimulated and she’d grab it.
So far she hadn’t been able to hold onto it, but ever-persistent and itching for baby Maia to develop along, Sheila kept trying. And on one lovely sunny day, it worked. She grabbed the bee for the first time and put it to her mouth. “She’s grabbing the bee!” Sheila exclaimed to her husband. “And she’s putting it
in her mouth! Yay, baby!” Sheila was excited.
“Is that alright?” asked her stunned hubby. “It’s fantastic!” she assured him. “She’s playing with it. She’s playing with a toy for the first time!”
She shook the bee and it rattled. She stared at her mummy in horror, so Sheila gently held her hand and rattled it again. She smiled that rare, precious smile that is so eagerly enjoyed in the first few months of a baby’s life, and Sheila knew this would be the first rattle of many.
An Exciting Education
As baby Maia discovered that day, rattles are a wonderful way for bub to explore the effect she can have on an object and the world in general. She soon discovers that when she shakes the rattle, it makes a noise. Later, as her brain develops, she’ll learn that when she bangs it, it makes a different noise and that shaking it slowly or quickly changes the sound it makes, too. In fact, rattles are good for lots of things...
Rattles are a great way to explore sound in general. Using different kinds of rattles, she can make all kinds of sounds. As bub hears these different sounds she is expanding the ‘catalogue’ of sounds in her brain, which is great for its development.
Adding names to the sounds your baby is hearing helps her language development too, so take some time to talk about what you’re both hearing. Say things like, “That makes a loud sound,” “That one’s quiet,” “Look at those beads in there, I wonder how they’ll sound?”
Putting different types of rattles into one basket can also help bub develop her memory skills as she tries to remember the different sound each one makes. Chances are she will return to the one she likes the best over and over again.
Developing Motor Skills
Rattles work on motor skills, too, as your baby practises grasping her favourites and shaking them to hear the sound. Manipulating the rattle and making it work also develops hand-eye coordination and strengthens little fingers, palms and wrists.
A shaking sound trapped inside a soft toy, such as Maia’s little bee friend, brings an extra dimension to the developmental benefits of a rattle. Babies just love to cuddle and look at soft, friendly faces and get a large amount of emotional comfort from familiar friends.
- A good rattle is not too big or heavy. No unsuspecting baby likes to be banged in the head by a fun-looking toy and she will hit herself if her motor skills aren’t up to holding a bigger, heavier object. So start small and light and try before you buy.
- Listen to the sound of the rattle and make sure it’s a good one. Some rattles skimp on the noisy bits and there’s just no fun in that. Rattles should be easy to shake and make a good, loud noise. If it’s too hard to get the sound happening, bub will lose interest quickly.
- Rattles should be simple and don’t need too much else going on. Your little one won’t realise the great noise she is producing if there are too many other things to be interested in.
- Having a variety of shaking, rattling toys is a good idea and adds that extra ‘memory’ element of learning play. Choose a couple of soft toys, some rattles where you can see what is shaking and some rattles where you can’t. This variety keeps things interesting and will get your baby’s brain working overtime.
If the sound fits...
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to finding rattles for your baby. They don’t have to all be the plastic or soft store-bought kind. In fact, they don’t have to be traditional rattles at all! There are some great alternatives that still deliver the same wonderful benefits that you might already have lying around the house. Just be sure to check their safety before giving them to your little one to play with.
- Activity rings
- A set of keys
Or why not make your own using a plastic container, bottle or small cardboard box with some interesting things inside. Try water by itself or coloured with food colouring, rice, barley, oats, popping corn, paper clips, buttons or colourful beads. Remember to make sure the lid is done up very tightly!