LET THEM play
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
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!
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.”
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!