- Distressed that your child spends too long playing around, and less of it ‘studying’?
- Concerned that other children may be acquiring many more skills at her age?
- Overwrought that your child needs to develop additional skills for her school interview?
If you answered in the affirmative to even two of these questions, you have just been diagnosed with ‘parental paranoia’. Pause before you panic further, because the cure for this is simple. The solution to your ‘problem’ lies, in fact, in what you observe your child doing naturally everyday – with just a little bit of monitoring and modification thrown in to enhance its effectiveness — namely, encourage your child to PLAY!
Albert Einstein once stated — “Play is the highest form of research,” but it doesn’t take a genius to understand why. The verb ‘playing’ connotes different things to the adult and to the child. Adults use the word to mean recreation, while children play all day long, and their recreation is to sleep. Therefore, play is to a child what work is to an adult; in another words, the child’s work IS to play!
Play forms an integral part of the child’s learning process. To begin with, playing builds a child’s imagination; simple everyday objects become stimuli, representing other things that your child desires to be or have. Channelling their ability to pretend, children can transform a few pots and pans into a drumset, and themselves or their friends into superheroes. The roles that they assume in the process of pretend play symbolise the life roles they actually play or would like to play, or situations they actually face, albeit exaggerated. Using play, children interpret dramas of everyday life, and practise the rules of social behaviour. In this way, they learn the social skills of negotiating, co-operating and sharing, especially during playdates.
Additionally, play helps advance physical development. Activities like running, throwing and pedalling can help develop large motor skills. Playing with blocks teaches children about gravity and balance, and improves adroitness that they can then apply to everyday situations, such as changing or feeding themselves. Blocks are also a medium of cognitive development since they teach children how to differentiate between shapes, textures and colours.
Playing also teaches language, motor skills and hand-eye coordination. While word games and riddles accelerate language abilities in children, motor skills and hand-eye coordination are best augmented by educational toys (see box) which can be used by parents to help children learn a variety of skills. These toys are designed to enrich social, emotional and physical development within the age groups they are targeted at, and involve and engage a child in her learning process. Most importantly, educational toys help a child learn essential skills and concepts while still having fun. In her mind, she is playing, in yours – she’s learning!