Do you remember as a child the endless hours of fun you had climbing trees, playing hopscotch or marbles? I loved being the “banker” when I played monopoly and the challenge of learning as many words starting with “Q” and “Z” during Scrabble challenges with my family on a Sunday afternoon. I have fond memories of playing “Fruit and Veg” with my grandmother and brother; it was amazing to think how a simple activity involving a piece of paper, pencil and letters of the alphabet could be such fun.
On a daily basis I come across child after child who is experiencing some kind of developmental delay and the need for additional therapies such as occupational therapy and speech and language therapy is on the rise. Trends in developmental difficulties such as poor muscle tone and task endurance, poor language and listening skills, weak concentration and difficulty with social interactions are very evident.
Parents often ask me why this is the case and granted there are some legitimate learning difficulties, developmental syndromes etc . that do account for these. However on the whole our children’s development is being affected by the fact that they are “playing” a whole lot less than generations before used to. A lot of time is spent on visually stimulating activities such as television, PSPs, IPads etc with not enough outdoor play. Listening and language based activities are infrequent during leisure time and hence become “boring” when they arise in the academic setting. Family and social interaction is also limited and there are therefore fewer opportunities to teach values and good social skills.
The importance of play for appropriate development and learning in children cannot be underestimated. During play times, children are able to build their
- Motor skills
- Language Development
- Social awareness and interaction
- Emotional maturity
In the first two years of your child’s life there is a vast amount of development taking place. Babies go from not being awake much when born to talking, walking, being able to initiate social interaction and reason more abstractly through make believe play within the first two years of their lives. During this phase you can stimulate your children’s development by offering them opportunities to engage with the following toys :-
- Large dolls
- Toy telephone
- Puzzles (5-10 pieces)
- Sand, bucket and spade
- Water toys, cups funnel etc
- Picture books with simple words
From three years onward opportunities to develop your child’s hand lateralisation, coordinating the two sides of their body together, building finger and upper body strength are very useful.
Craft activities as well as threading, lacing, beading, play dough, hanging with pegs, picking up items with a tweezer, sorting buttons/dry pasta into types in a muffin tray etc. are useful to develop fine muscles. Introducing various mediums such as flour sand, mud, clay, paint etc. is also helpful in stimulating the senses.
Large muscle activities such as gymnastics, playing on a jungle gym, climbing trees, riding a bicycle help with large motor muscles that may otherwise not be utilized much.
You can enhance your child’s language development through
- Story turns : make up a story, you begin and allow the child to continue, then you take over again and so on….
- Guess who I am : give a description of something and ask a child to guess what it is, then give them a turn to describe something
- Introducing a show and tell evening on a regular basis
- Using descriptive words to build vocabulary – eg this is a gigantic potato,
- Providing opportunities for dramatics and make believe play – puppet theatre, house keeping corner etc.
- “I spy”, “Bingo with words/letters”, “Scrabble” etc help to establish phonic development, reading and spelling skills
It is also important to develop good listening skills, memory and concentration.
- Give precise instructions for activites e.g drawing a picture, first step by step, and then a few instructions at once to make it more challenging.
- Playing listening/ auditory memory games
- Listen to a story on a cd, without the visual input of a picture book to go along with
Board and other games are a very good way to teach impulse control, turn taking, stop-think-do strategy. They are also effective time-wise as a single game or activity, such as playing “more or less” with a set of dice or a pack of cards can build several foundational skills at the same time (eye tracking, waiting turn, attention, coordination, processing speed, number concept development etc)
On an emotional level, games teach children social and emotional skills such as how to win and lose, playing fairly, enjoying the fun of interacting rather than just winning, politeness etc. Playing together builds family relationships and develops closeness as well.
So the next time you are tempted to go take your family to a movie or find yourselves in front of a IPad or some other screen, play a game instead. You might also be pleasantly reminded of how much fun it can be.