Let’s Play - How play helps in a child's development
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Let’s Play- How play helps in a child's development

Let’s Play- How play helps in a child's development

 What is the occupation of a child? … To play.. Yes!  It’s as simple as that, and there is tremendous potential in play. The truth though is somewhere while teaching A,B,C, 1,2,3 we have forgotten to let our children play.

Remember our childhood, when we came back from school, without even waiting to change our uniform or to finish lunch we would just run out to play with our friends. In each of these games, be it hide and seek, running and catching each other or pretend playing teacher, teacher, doctor, doctor (that’s how we use to call these games as kids ) we never realised that we were developing so many vital skills which were going to help us later to become physically strong mentally agile, emotionally stable and problem solvers. But, Is our children playing enough?

Play develops all our skills, gross motor, fine motors, cognitive, imaginative thinking  (required later when the child is asked to write about, “A visit to the Zoo” or “How I spent my summer vacations” in creative writing), body balance, environmental awareness (essential for children to be actively involved rather than be lost in their world), eye hand coordination, spatial awareness ( a child who has a concept of space in gross motor level is able to transfer it better on the paper and able to maintain the correct size of words and letters or maintain adequate space between them while writing.) , attention and concentration. Research also shows that children when playing freely are totally off guard and at times project what they are going through in life through play. Personally, I am a big fan of play and try to incorporate it as much as possible in my sessions too. Well, you can say I relive my childhood when I am playing with children.

Play also does not mean buying expensive toys, things around in your house are excellent play material so let’s start ….

For sensory needs( I start with Tactile or the touch sense) collect all varieties of grains, sand, scotch brite, plastic scrubbers and loofas, different types or textures of door mats, dough kneaded in different colours (you can use food colours for this), coloured water (which child doesn’t like water play? )

While using these always observe your child if he doesn’t like a particular texture don’t force him. Let the child learn his shapes, animals, vehicles etc. through these different textured materials. Hide them in these textures, e.g. dal or sand let the child find them. Concepts like wet & dry, hot & cold, or splashing etc can be done through water play. Simply splashing water at each other connects you with your child, he enjoys it tremendously and is totally in synchronisation with you, giving you all his attention.

Plain flour, sand, sooji, powder etc.  can be used to teach pre writing skills, its’s the most effective tactile input too. Let the child trace his standing, sleeping lines or shapes in these. Let them race their small cars on tracks you have made in them. It will also ensure a lot of mid line crossing activities helping further in brain development. I have also used these to develop concepts like matching. By placing dots vertically, with water colours, of  different colours , on a table, I would ask the child to join dots across the table which are of the same colours sing their index finger. I also make the child copy whatever I am drawing on the table using different mediums.  This is messy but so much fun for the child.  It is also at the same time developing his matching skills as well as tactile input, and eye hand coordination, creating so many wonderful moments of interactions.

To develop eye contact use dough or powder, put it on your nose, cheeks, forehead basically on your face, making funny faces and sounds. Let the child remove it from your face. Put bindis or stickers on your face naturally guide the child to remove it from your face. So much eye contact without saying look at me. Bubbles are my trump card and the moment I start blowing them I have seen each crying child stop crying immediately and look at bubbles and me, with so much fascination. Use them in hundreds of ways, make the child catch the bubbles, run after them, track them or pop them. If he is expecting you to blow more bubbles just wait for him to say “more” or give you some sort of indication. You are encouraging the child here to communicate with you or creating avenues for interaction.

Similarly hang a balloon or soft toy and give your child a small toy tennis racket or let him use his hands for now.  Slowly push the toy or balloon toward the child and let him hit the target with his hand or racket. This improves the attention and reflexes of your child. As your child’s confidence increases push the toy from different angles and with increasing speed. Hitting a balloon also is an excellent activity to develop focus, eye tracking (a skill required for your child to read from a book or black board) and eye hand coordination.

Free play also gives you a ground to develop natural conversation.  E.g., “I am putting powder on your nose, cheeks, and tummy” or “put the circle on the yellow car, or oh! look at the train, it’s going under the tunnel or is on the bridge”. Building train tracks with bridges or tunnels on the way are excellent avenues for great natural conversation. While sitting across the room keep vehicles of different sizes and send it across to the child using adjectives like big, small, colours etc. use phrases like the “car goes vroom- vroom”, or the “cow says moo” while showing animals to the child. Children love to imitate such sounds.

Another fun activity I do is, sitting across the child at his eye level and making him press my nose or cheeks or chin, and each time the child does that I produce sounds like the pig says “oink oink” (while the child is pressing my nose), or meow of a cat (while pressing my cheeks) etc. The squeal of delight and the natural eye contact I get from the child during these moments are priceless and worth all the efforts. You can use this later to press the child’s nose, cheeks and encourage him to produce the same sounds.

"Spread different textured door mats on the floor one after the other. Make fun activities like transferring objects (which could be nouns) from a box, on one end to the bucket in the other end. The child here is getting his sensory input as well as actively learning concepts."

You can use hoopla rings to teach concepts like, jump into the ring, let’s jump out, spin it to show how it spins and then falls. I am yet to see a child, who doesn’t giggle in delight when he sees the hoopla spin. Same is the effect when I use car tyres, the child loves to jump into the tyre from the edge or balance on the tyre and pick a smiley balls (I picked up different emotion balls from amazon, I name the emotion and the child searches and picks that ball all the time balancing on the tyre) and throw it towards some target, or simply walk around the edges balancing.

You can create an obstacle course like keeping a small chair, a table some cushions on the floor and now instruct the child to crawl under the table, on to the chair, crash on to the cushions, the list being endless. This simple activity develops each and every aspect of your child, be it his gross motors, instruction following, midline crossing, planning his body movements in advance, thus increasing his spatial awareness.

Play is active learning in contrast to flash cards or most table top activities. Since the learning is happening through child’s interest it is more permanent. A child who’s sitting and attention has been developed through play, in my experience, I have seen takes naturally to table top activities. I have seen the child later taking interest then in books or writing too.

 Play is actually so much fun and so much active learning and language development in a natural way. The learning here is active not passive. You get the child’s full attention and engagement without saying again and again, “Look at me” You just have to put on your thinking caps and let’s get started.

Ahoy! All Aboard ….Aye, aye, Captain…..

Happy playing ……

Author: Simmi Vasu
"Mrs. Simmi Vasu is a Special Educator, Founder and Principal of "Orane Kids School" based out in Noida, India. She is also a proud mother of 18 year old Kartik who is diagnosed with ASD. Her son is one of the source of inspiration to  take special educator as profession and help other parents. She has decades of experience in this area and loves to share her expertise with parents."