Play for fun
Play experiences are an important part of development for any child. This means exploring different environments, different textures, and different sounds for example. Children usually observe other children before playing with them, and learn gradually to interact with each other. For some children this progression may be delayed and this may be a problem when going to school.
Motor and Emotional Development
Through play, the child obtains sensory input from his/her body and from gravity that is essential for both motor and emotional development. The sensory input is what makes it ‘fun’. Running, turning, bending, touching things, pushing, pulling, rolling, crawling, climbing, jumping and so on produce movement and touch sensations. One of the reasons children play is to get this input. In order to learn about themselves and their environment different experiences are required in order to allow the child to gain confidence. Through manipulation of small playthings, he/she learns to use their hands and fingers efficiently. Play expands competence.
Support and Motivate
Remember that play is primarily directed by the child’s own motivation. If they are pushed into playing, some of the benefits will be lost. Instead, set up an appropriate situation and show the child how to do each activity until they are able to do it by themselves. Don’t tell them intellectually; show them physically. Make favourable comments to make the child feel that he/she can succeed; accentuate the positive and ignore the negative. Use imagination and the child will gain more from his/her play.
Things to Avoid
Avoid making the child feel inadequate by expecting him/her to do things they cannot do. This will defeat the purpose of play. Activities that are too complicated for the child will make it harder for him/her to interact and enjoy.
Using their Imagination
Children do not need expensive or sophisticated toys to play effectively. Often a child will prefer to play with an old spoon, or a bed sheet, or some other household items. Playthings should give the child lots of opportunities to use his/her imagination and creativity, and the child should not have to worry about breaking the objects he/she explores.
Empty cardboard cartons and plastic bottles, tyres or inner tubes, large ropes, kitchen pots and pans, pieces of foam padding, pillows and other things lying around the house offer valuable opportunities for play. Sand piles are great; cut up a pop/squash bottle or container to use as a scoop. Water and sand are great combinations. Dirt can be shovelled; holes can be dug in it; mountains are made in it, or tunnels dug through; toy cars can be driven over it.
A simple bolster can be made of an old blanket or two tied into a roll. Your child will have fun simply rolling over it. Try making an obstacle course in which the child must creep, crawl, climb, step up, walk backwards, hop, jump. Change the obstacles every time he/she goes through it successfully so that he/she has to produce new adaptive responses.
The games children have played for centuries are especially good. Hide-and-seek is good for developing space perception and body perception, since the child must look for a place large enough to hide his/her body in. Hopscotch for developing balance and motor planning. Bean bag toss works on eye/hand co-ordination.
Choosing and Buying Toys
When buying toys, choose ones that will encourage the child to move his/her entire body or manipulate things with their hands; wagons, slides, jump rope, swings, rocking horses, jungle gyms, blocks, puzzles, Lego. Toys that are merely pushed or pulled – like a dog on wheels – do not offer much in the way of variety but may help the child with balance. The best toys are the ones that have no set use, but offer many variations in use so that the child must use his/her imagination to create his own play.