Creating Exploration Centers for Infants

Every infant care program should have significant space that encourages infants to play and explore!

Create a quality space for play that is developmentally appropriate for infants of all ages with these helpful suggestions from Jennifer Karnopp, author of Focus on Babies: How-tos and What-to-dos when Caring for Infants.

While babies need opportunities to be active and loud, they also need space to escape the noise and activity and to engage in some quiet play. One effective way to ensure that infants (particularly older infants) have the opportunity to explore and engage is through the creation of exploration centers. These specially themed learning centers are great places to encourage the exploration of specific skills or areas of development in babies. For example, you could create a gross motor exploration center, where babies can climb, crawl, step, and slide. Or, you could even create a sensory exploration center for infants to explore different textures or smells, discover mirrors, and play with musical instruments.

Remember, young children can become overwhelmed by too many choices, so be selective about what you set out. Observe the children carefully as they explore each center, and pay attention to which items they choose. If something is not being used, you can always remove it and replace it with something else.

A few exploration center ideas to consider:

  • Wet or Messy: art and sensory experiences
  • Reaching, Grasping, and Kicking: balls, rattles, and activity gyms
  • Language and Book: posters, board books, pictures
  • Climbing: sturdy items to climb over, under, and through
  • Mirror: low, shatterproof mirrors to explore
  • Blocks: large, soft blocks and smaller blocks for filling and dumping
  • Soft Toy and Cozy: nook filled with pillows, stuffed animals, and other soft toys
  • Costume: hats, feather boas, and other items with different textures to explore
  • Action and Reaction: busy boxes, sorting boxes, pounding toys, and other activities
  • Sound: tape recorders, instruments, and other sound-making toys to explore
  • Animals: live animals, stuffed animals, plastic animals, and pictures of animals

For more tips on creating a developmentally appropriate environment and experiences that stimulate infants' muscles and minds, check out Focus on Babies: How-tos and What-to-dos when Caring for Infants by Jennifer Karnopp. Concerned about creating a quality learning environment for the toddlers in your care? Check out Focus on Toddlers: How-tos and What-to-dos when Caring for Toddlers and Twos.


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