Play & Learning: Picking the Right Activity

In Early Intervention, we use activity-based learning which simply means we assist families in creating learning opportunities by embedding curriculum items in naturally occurring routines, activities, and settings. So when you sit down to play with your child, how do you decide what to play? 

Picking the Right Activity: Questions to ask yourself

  • What developmental milestone do we want to work on? In Early Intervention, we always work on skills that are important to the family and their daily routines. So think about it, what is important to you? What would you like to see your child doing?

    • To further help with selecting the developmental milestone you would like to address, think through: Is this skill developmentally appropriate?  The CDC offers excellent resources on developmental milestones by age. Definitely check it out if you are not sure what you could be working on with your child!

    • In addition and closely related to the last question: Is this an emerging skill for my child? Your child is not going to go from rolling over to walking. Instead, an appropriate milestone to work on after your child is rolling over might be sitting with support. All children develop at different rates, so while developmental appropriateness is important, determining the next skill in the progression of developmental milestones is critical. 

  • What is the best way to teach this skill?

    • Do we need a toy? 90 percent of preschool children’s play in the United States involves a toy. However, don't let this rule out other opportunities during play. For example, when a baby is learning to crawl, placing a toy he or she loves just out of reach is a great method to encourage crawling. However, you can switch it up by offering a yummy snack (my kids were always motivated by puffs) or simply the smile on your face your arms outstretched as you verbally encourage your child to crawl towards you. So be creative! 

      • If you decide you do need a toy, think through your child's interests. Professor Trawick-Smith (Professor of Early Childhood Education at the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, Connecticut) found "many of the toys nominated by parents and teachers that were used most often and in the most complex ways by boys. This included items that seemed gender-neutral from an adult perspective. What set the highest-scoring toys apart was that they prompted problem solving, social interaction, and creative expression in both boys and girls. Interestingly, toys that have traditionally been viewed as male oriented—construction toys and toy vehicles, for example—elicited the highest quality play among girls." ("What the Research Says: Impact of Specific Toys on Play") Remember when selecting toys, that blocks, Legos, etc, are not just for boys!

      • In addition, Professor Trawick-Smith gave one rule of thumb for families in selecting toys that emerged from his studies- Basic is better! ("What the Research Says: Impact of Specific Toys on Play")

      • Continue monitoring the effectiveness of the toy. Some toys have a powerful influence on children’s thinking, interaction with peers, and creative expression. Other toys do not. Once toys are selected, teachers can carefully observe their impact on children’s play. Do toys elicit a good balance of play behaviors, across social, intellectual, and creative areas of development? ("What the Research Says: Impact of Specific Toys on Play")

I hope this blog post has gotten you thinking about what you would like your child to begin working on and brainstorming activities and/or toys you could use to begin working with your child on these skills. Going forward in this series we still will be taking a look at how to scaffold learning during play, some great places to find toys, and some of my favorite toys you can use to address different developmental milestones!


What the Research Says: Impact of Specific Toys on Play | National Association for the Education of Young Children | NAEYC. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2017, from

How do I know if my child is delayed?

The first thing that should be mentioned is that all children develop differently. While one child learns to walk at 9 months, another may not be walking until 13 months. Even our bi-annual assessment has a range shown for each skill (i.e. Names one or two familiar objects, 13-18 months). Children develop on their own timeline, and often this is within the normal range. However, the concern arises when there is a more significant delay in the acquiring of skills, which we call "red flags." Spotting concerns sooner rather than later is key if your child does have a true developmental delay.

My goal is to give you a resource of when skills should  acquired. If your child is not developing within these "normal" time-spans, you can discuss concerns with your pediatrician. Sometimes doctors recommend waiting to see if skills emerge on their own. However, as a parent you can refer your child for Early Intervention services on your own if you continue to have concerns. Please see our Referral page or feel free to give us a call! We would be more than happy to help you get connected and assist in making the referral! 

Common signs of Development Delay in Infants & Children:

Language/Communication Skills (Speech)

  • 3-4 Months: Does not respond to loud noises
  • 4 Months: Begins babbling but does not try to imitate sounds
  • 7 Months: Does not respond to sounds
  • 1 Year: Does not use any single words (like "mama")
  • 2 Years: Cannot speak at least 15 words, does not use two-word phrases without repetition, only imitates speech, does not use speech to communicate more than immediate needs

Gross Motor Skills

  • 4 Months: Does not support his or her head well, does not push down with legs when his or her feet are place on a firm surface 
  • 5 Months: Doesn't roll over in either direction
  • 6 Months: Cannot sit up without help
  • 7 Months: Stiff or very floppy muscles, flops his or her head when pulled into a sitting position, does not bear weight on his or her legs when you pull him or her up to a standing position
  • 1 Year: Does not crawl, drags on side of his or her body while crawling, cannot stand when supported
  • 18 Months: Cannot walk
  • 2 Years: Does not develop a heel-to-toe walking pattern or only walks on toes, cannot push a wheeled toy

Fine Motor Skills

  • 3-4 Months: Does not reach for, grasp, or hold objects, does not support his/her head well
  • 7 Months: Reaches with one hand and does not actively reach for objects, has trouble getting objects into his or her mouth

Social/Emotional Skills- How a child interacts with other children and adults

  • 3 Months: Does not smile at people, does not pay attention to new faces, or seems frightened by them
  • 5 Months: Cannot be comforted at night, does not smile without prompting
  • 6 Months: Does not squeal or laugh
  • 7 Months: Refuses to cuddle, shows no affections for parents or caregivers, shows no enjoyment around people
  • 8 Months: Shows no interest in games of peek-a-boo
  • 9 Months: Shows no back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles, or facial expressions
  • 1 Year: Shows no back-and-forth gestures, such as waving, reaching, or pointing

Cognition Skills- Thinking

  • 1 Year: Does not search for objects that are hidden while he or she watches, does not use gestures (i.e. waving), does not point to objects or pictures
  • 2 Years: Does not know the function of common objects (i.e. hairbrush, telephone, spoon), does not follow simple instructions, does not imitate actions or words



Studies show that 10-15% of children under age 3 had a developmental delay. Your child may have a delay in one, two, or all of these areas. Early Intervention can make a huge difference for children with developmental delays. One study found that only 3% of kids were getting appropriate attention.

If you have concerns about your child's development, please speak up! Follow your instincts. At Tiny Feet Early Intervention, we understand that you are the expert on your child!


Boyle CA, et al. 2011. Trends in the Prevalence of Developmental Disabilities in US Children, 1997-2008. Pediatrics 127(6):1034- 42

AndrewG1999. "Know If Your Baby Is Developing Normally." WikiHow. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2016

"Recognizing Developmental Delays in Children." WebMD. Ed. Smitha Bhandari. N.p., 31 May 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016.