Homemade Play

Cover_72dpiIt was a rainy California winter day. I sat holding my four-month old daughter, looking out at the pouring rain and feeling desperate. There wasn’t anything wrong with Kaia. The problem was I didn’t know what to do with her. I had spent a lot of time with babies. I started babysitting when I was twelve years old and I’d been working with small children ever since. I held a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and had logged thousands of hours observing, assessing and caring for babies over more than two decades. I have worked as a preschool teacher, a program coordinator for an early intervention center for children with special needs, and as a child development specialist.


With all this experience, I thought parenting was going to be easy. But caring for someone else’s child in a clinical or preschool setting is so different from parenting your own twenty-four hours a day, day after day. I was exhausted. We’d done tummy time. I’d sung her all the songs I knew. I’d flipped through the baby signs book and practiced some signs with her. She was fussy and didn’t want her crinkly caterpillar or her blankie. Normally we’d go out for a walk now, but not in rain like this. I just didn’t know what to do with her. The day stretched out before me. I looked at her as if she was going to tell me what she needed, but of course she couldn’t.


I remembered something my great aunt said about giving her children pots and pans to bang on. She insisted that they were perfectly happy with household objects and didn’t need store bought toys. I hadn’t thought much about it at the time, but now I began to. I had pots and pans. I had spatulas and whisks.

I went through the kitchen looking for interesting and safe utensils and placing them in Kaia’s hands. We had a great time together rediscovering the contents of the kitchen. I began to see measuring cups and ice cream scoops through a baby’s eyes.

Then we went on to other rooms and found more things to explore: scarves, mirrors, even a new toothbrush. Over the following weeks and months I challenged myself to find the next best thing inside our apartment and on walks outside.

I was hooked.

Sure, we had some store bought toys, but how can you beat the multi-purposeness of common objects? Kaia gripped the wooden spoon the first day. As she grew, her play became more sophisticated. Over the next weeks and months she put the spoon in her mouth, banged it, dropped it and swatted at pillows. These spoons, cups and funnels were often more fun and interesting than store-bought toys and when Kaia was done with them they could go back to being useful tools.


Everything we do lays the foundation for future learning. This responsibility can feel daunting. Bombarded with electronic toys and sophisticated baby gadgets that blink and beep and make grand claims about their entertainment or educational value, many of us doubt our own instincts. But the truth is, a baby does not need many store-bought toys. We can return to the basics of play and infant development using ideas that are easy to implement and don’t require a lot of money.

My book is an attempt to reclaim some of the natural processes of learning. It’s an invitation to slow down, be present with your baby and enjoy discovering the world for the first time. Without plastic toys and battery-driven bouncy seats, you can delight your little one and deepen your bond.

Here are some activities for tummy time.


photo-0806 Roll three or more towels together or use a soft bolster to lay baby belly down on. Your baby should lie comfortably directly on top of the roll so it supports the body. Arms and legs may be off to the sides, but baby’s head should rest on the roll to one side. Holding onto baby by the waist, gently rock him from side to side.


Photo-4456 Place your baby tummy down on a small air-filled ball (soccer ball, beach ball, kick ball). Your hands should be secure around her waist. Hold firmly and press her down softly onto the ball so she stays in one place and feels secure. Her head may need to rest on the ball.

Roll baby an inch or two forward and backwards, sway left and right or in a circular motion. Don’t bounce your baby up and down while in this position. It is too jarring on the neck and may hurt your baby.

Kim's Bio Pic-1Kim Lyons has been working with children and families in educational settings and private practice for 25 years. She is the author of Homemade Play: Creative Ways To Be With Your Baby (Kimberly Lyons, 2013) and can be found playing with babies in her Tum e Time classes and exploring with her unschooled daughter around Oakland, CA. For more information, visit www.homemadeplaybook.com

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Peggy O'Mara

About Peggy O'Mara

Editor and Publisher of peggyomara.com. Longtime natural living advocate, award winning writer, and independent thinker.

4 thoughts on “Homemade Play

  1. Sarah

    Great article Kim! Simple toys are the best…my 3 boys mostly needed balls, big sheets to build forts, and a few simple dress up things.
    I would say balls were the most used, in combination with furniture ( a side ways coffee table used as a hockey goal for example).
    Our business is based on this philosophy.
    Would you have anything to write about playsilks ? If so, I would welcome an article or any words of wisdom for my blog/Facebook page…and I would like to share your book as a resource too.
    And thanks Peggy, for publishing this!
    Warmly, Sarah

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