It may look like your toddler is just hav­ing a great time with his toys, but he’s also learn­ing lan­guage and prob­lem-solv­ing skills – all while hav­ing fun

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Medical Mum -

De­vel­op­men­tal mile­stones are some­thing ev­ery mum is con­cerned with. You’ll never for­get the first time your bub smiled, his first words or the first few wob­bly steps. When your tot gets old enough to be­gin play­ing alone with toys, you’ll also start to no­tice new skills, such as hand-eye co­or­di­na­tion, spa­tial in­tel­li­gence, cre­ative think­ing and cause and ef­fect.

In the early years, lit­tle ones learn al­most ev­ery­thing from play. It’s so es­sen­tial to the de­vel­op­ment process that the UN High Com­mis­sion for Hu­man Rights recog­nises play as a right for ev­ery child. Child psy­chi­a­trist and Com­mu­nity Kids Child­care & Early Learn­ing Cen­tres’ pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment provider Dr Kay­lene Hen­der­son ex­plains, “Just as we com­mit to pro­vid­ing our kids with suf­fi­cient amounts of healthy food, know­ing how good it is for them, it’s im­por­tant to con­sider play in the same way. Chil­dren need suf­fi­cient time and op­por­tu­ni­ties for play for their healthy de­vel­op­ment.”

Simple ac­tions, such as drop­ping a toy on the floor to see what hap­pens when they let go or stack­ing bricks un­til they fall over, en­cour­age your lit­tle one to ex­per­i­ment and in­ter­act with the world around them. Dan­ish play ex­pert Hanne Boutrup says that chil­dren get ex­cited about the re­ac­tion they cause when they're ex­per­i­ment­ing dur­ing play, which leads to greater cu­rios­ity. You can ex­pect your lit­tle one to pick up cre­ative, cog­ni­tive, sto­ry­telling and so­cial skills all while they’re play­ing. It’s quite amaz­ing when you think about it!

Imag­ine THAT

There’s no doubt that en­gag­ing your toddler’s imag­i­na­tion will give them the tools to look at sit­u­a­tions from a va­ri­ety of per­spec­tives and find res­o­lu­tions as they grow older. “When you al­low your child to play cre­atively you help them build an­a­lyt­i­cal think­ing skills and prob­lem­solv­ing skills,” says Hanne. “When you look at your child build­ing with bricks – or even just play­ing with them while search­ing for in­spi­ra­tion – their brain is to­tally ‘oc­cu­pied’, try­ing to fig­ure out and learn new ways to solve a prob­lem.”

As adults, we can con­jure up many dif­fer­ent ways of do­ing things to get around an is­sue or achieve a par­tic­u­lar out­come. It seems nat­u­ral to try things

Play pro­vides a help­ful way for chil­dren to com­mu­ni­cate their ideas and wor­ries to their par­ents.

Play is the best way to help young chil­dren to learn and it is lots of fun.

out, and if they don’t work, tackle the sit­u­a­tion from an­other per­spec­tive using your new knowl­edge. “For young kids, this process is learnt through play as they haven’t de­vel­oped the abil­ity to process in­for­ma­tion just in their heads,” says Hanne. “A lot of our an­a­lyt­i­cal lan­guage comes from this kind of cre­ative play. We learn about shapes, sizes and colours in a very nat­u­ral and fun way.”

HOW YOU can help…

Sit down on the floor with your lit­tle one and make up a story in­clud­ing a prob­lem that needs solv­ing and en­cour­age them to find a so­lu­tion. For ex­am­ple, two friends live on op­po­site sides of a river and want to meet up. Ask your tot to build some­thing that will solve the prob­lem. “This will spark your child’s imag­i­na­tion as they think on what to build to help them. The more va­ri­ety of bricks you have the greater your imag­i­na­tion will be,” says Hanne.

Adding IT UP

Chil­dren in­stinc­tively stack items or form pat­terns with their toys. How­ever, get­ting them to un­der­stand that they’ve made a pat­tern or teach­ing them to count is an­other chal­lenge in it­self. “All par­ents will be able to re­late to kids point­ing to items and mis­count­ing eight items when there are only five. This is be­cause kids can’t con­nect num­bers by point­ing, they need an item to as­so­ci­ate with a num­ber,” ex­plains Hanne. You can use your child’s toys to vis­ually con­nect the words one, two and three with items as you count in or­der to boost their un­der­stand­ing.

HOW YOU can help…

You don’t have to worry about com­pli­cated math prob­lems or equa­tions, sim­ply play­ing with colour­ful toys and prac­tis­ing ba­sic count­ing and rep­e­ti­tion in the com­pany of your lit­tle one can have a pos­i­tive im­pact. “Build­ing bricks helps kids to make con­nec­tions be­tween the bricks they are stack­ing and the num­ber they are up to, even­tu­ally un­der­stand­ing what five looks like as op­posed to 10, and so on,” says Hanne. Using tan­gi­ble items suit­able for lit­tle hands helps them to make a con­nec­tion be­tween num­bers and quan­ti­ties.

Once upon A TIME

En­cour­ag­ing your toddler to ex­plain things to you or other adults will help to re­in­force one of the most im­por­tant skills he will need as he grows. Think about it, we ex­plain things to oth­ers on a daily ba­sis more of­ten than we re­alise. Not only is sto­ry­telling a great way to en­gage the imag­i­na­tion, it builds your tot’s con­fi­dence and helps him to ar­tic­u­late ex­actly how he feels and ex­press his wants and de­sires.

Hanne says you can help your child gain knowl­edge by build­ing on some­thing they al­ready know or from satisfying a cu­rios­ity. “This is where sto­ry­telling is so cru­cial for kids to build these vi­tal skills. A story

doesn’t spring out of noth­ing… it is in­spired by some­thing, and it’s about kick-start­ing it.”

Kay­lene agrees, “Play also pro­vides a help­ful way for chil­dren to com­mu­ni­cate their ideas and wor­ries to their par­ents. Of­ten young chil­dren lack the lan­guage skills to fully de­scribe these thoughts to their par­ents, yet the themes will be promi­nent in their play,” she says.

HOW YOU can help…

Hanne sug­gests en­cour­ag­ing your lit­tle one to tell sto­ries con­ceived from their imag­i­na­tion from start to fin­ish and act­ing out sce­nar­ios through the toys they in­ter­act with. “Take a toy box, for ex­am­ple. The pic­tures on the out­side may spark the story,” she ex­plains, “From there, it’s about work­ing with kids to en­cour­age them to con­tinue telling it through their play and guid­ing them to solve prob­lems they face through­out.”

So­cial SKILLS

Hav­ing your lit­tle one in­ter­act with other chil­dren when they’re play­ing builds es­sen­tial so­cial­i­sa­tion skills. “Tod­dlers can learn so much from play­ing with other chil­dren, such as turn tak­ing, join­ing in with and in­clud­ing oth­ers, and learn­ing how to han­dle con­flict when it arises,” says Kay­lene. Get them used to in­ter­act­ing with other tots, so it’s not so scary or daunt­ing when they be­gin to reg­u­larly at­tend day care or preschool. “Young chil­dren en­gage, learn and de­velop so much through play that it makes sense to pro­vide teach­ing through play in early learn­ing cen­tres,” says Kay­lene. “It re­ally is the best way to help young chil­dren to learn and, im­por­tantly, it is lots of fun!”

HOW YOU can help…

Set up reg­u­lar play dates with your mother’s group or friend’s chil­dren. They don’t have to be the same age or at the same de­vel­op­men­tal stage as your lit­tle one. “It’s re­ally im­por­tant for chil­dren to have pos­i­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties to so­cialise, in­clud­ing with peo­ple of dif­fer­ent ages,” ex­plains Kay­lene. “We know that se­cure re­la­tion­ships be­tween chil­dren and oth­ers within and out­side of their fam­i­lies can ben­e­fit them in lots of ways, in­clud­ing im­prov­ing long-term de­vel­op­men­tal out­comes.” So book a time, pronto!

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