Play Is Critical For Child Development

Play is the primary occupation of a child: it is a natural activity essential for their learning and development. Play is not a luxury – it is a necessity. The less exposed they are to different types of play and stimulation, the less they will develop.

All these skills develop slowly over time, and your child’s acquisition of them will depend on their age and desire to engage in play activities that promote those skills. The key is to create an atmosphere of fun so that your child won’t even notice all the new skills they are gaining. Play should be spontaneous, internally motivated and self-driven.

Allow your child to take the lead in play activities and try not to be prescriptive in what or how they should be playing. The moment you force them to play in a particular way, they may lose their desire to engage and the value of play is lost. Play is all about the means, not the ends.

Simple ideas on how to expose your child to a variety of play opportunities within your home

Gross Motor Skills

Fine Motor Skills

Sensory Processing Skills

Cognitive Skills

Social skills

The skills required to control large movements of one’s body. The coordination of the small muscles in the fingers and hands. The way we interpret and manage messages we have received from our nervous system (senses). The brain-based skills we need to carry out any task. The skills we use to communicate and interact with each other (verbal and non-verbal).
Play ideas:

  • Obstacle courses
  • Walking/ jumping forwards/ backwards along a line in the sand
  • Imitate animal walking (bear, kangaroo, snake, frog, crab, etc.)
Play ideas:

  • Threading/ beading
  • Playing with play-doh
  • Playing with Small movable toys
  • Drawing /  colouring-in / writing
  • Finger painting
Play ideas:

  • Making mud pies
  • Listening to & dancing to music
  • Looking at different lights, colours, movements
  • Smelling & tasting different types of foods/spices
  • Swinging on swings/around in circles
Play ideas:

  • Puzzles
  • Matching games
  • Where’s Wally type games
  • Games that assist in learning basic concepts (shapes, colours, etc.)
  • Problem-solving games
  • Memory games
Play ideas:

  • Turn-taking games
  • Sharing games
  • Leading and following games
  • Games that promote sharing & interpreting of emotions (fantasy games)

With the above skills in mind, you may start to wonder whether your child is ‘on par’ with others in his/her age group. It is essential to remember that all children develop differently, they all have their own personalities, likes and dislikes, and may simply be better in some areas than others. But, if you are really worried, here are a few things to look out for. If your child is regularly unsuccessful in completing a task, mastering a skill appropriate for her age, or is having problems at school learning new concepts and retaining information, an Occupational Therapist may be helpful.

Some common warning signs include:

  • Delays in developing motor skills like sitting, crawling and walking

  • Having poor hand/eye coordination, bumping into objects and being clumsy

  • Struggling with good posture, and balance and may appear too floppy or too stiff

  • Difficulty holding a pen, scissors or utensils correctly

  • Difficulty tying shoelaces or doing up buttons and zips

  • Poor handwriting or reversal of letters and numbers

  • Inability to accurately copy from a board

  • Struggling with the concept of left and right

  • Poor sleeping patterns

  • Becomes overly sensitive or is very unresponsive to certain sensations such as loud sounds, bright lights, deep or light touch, specific foods or certain types of movements

  • Aggressive or impulsive behaviour

  • Difficulty controlling emotions and interacting socially with family and peers

  • Struggling to adapt to new environments or changes in routine

  • Wanders aimlessly without purposeful play

Teach your child to play & you will equip them with skills for a lifetime.

Play is the highest form of Research.” (Albert Einstein)

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