Some parents are not aware of the importance of play in early childhood development. Play is the way a child learns about the world around him.
This is his time for exploration and discovery. Through play, a child learns and understands the concept of colors, numbers, and spatial positions.
The Role of Play in Child Development:
Play influences the physical, emotional, and linguistic developments of a child.
By four months, babies can focus their eyes well on objects all over the room. They now begin to follow all objects intently with their eyes. And since babies have an inborn preference for bright colors, you may want to provide toys that are big and colorful. Make sure they are safe for chewing.
Listening is also becoming more important for your baby, who delights in the sound of your voice as you talk, sing or hum. By 4 months, they should be able to recognize if their parents are talking.
Then, at 5 months, babies are able to reach for and grasp an object, transfer it from one hand to the other and finally bring it to the mouth for further exploration.
At about 9 months, your baby is aware that objects exist. You can hide his favorite toy under his blanket and he will lift it up and find it!
Your child is also becoming more mobile – crawling and pulling to stand. He also becomes more adept with his hands, picking up whatever he finds and putting it into his mouth. Balls are a favorite at this point as he is able to crawl after them, throw them and watch them bounce.
At 12 – 24 months, he should have no problem walking on his own. His hands have become more coordinated so he is able to scribble a drawing and sort out his toys.
His curiosity motivates him to try things repeatedly to gain mastery over it. He will also test his limits and begin to insist his independence. He will throw tantrums to let you know what he thinks. At this age, the child’s play is more active and he enjoys any game that is physically involving. Provide the child with push and pull toys and a safe area where he can practice all his emerging motor skills. Puzzles will be intriguing at this age, as he is more capable of problem solving and learning from trial and error.
At 3 years, your child is a social creature making it important that you expose them to group activities.
From 4-5 years old, They start to take up roles in group play. They also start to understand and follow rules. Games like hopscotch, Snap, hide and seek, snakes and ladders, Let's Pretend are some examples of what they enjoy.
Give your child lots of opportunities to mix with other children. He is already able to read body language, read emotional cues, make decisions on how to act based on the situation he is in and the cues he is picking up.
Different types of play can teach a child how to move around his environment and interact with people.
The benefits of outdoor play for children:
Outdoor areas are ideal places for children to engage in messy play with sand, water, paint and other art and craft activities. The outside playground offers a much wider variety of natural materials to stimulate the senses.
Outdoor play offers children opportunities to explore their environment in relationship to themselves; create their own places for play; and engage in imaginative play experiences with both realistic and symbolic props.
Outdoor active play can be intensely stimulating and creates opportunities for children to learn about and develop self-control. Research has shown that popular children are more likely to engage in high levels of physical play with peers. Unpopular children, on the other hand, seem to experience difficulty with the intensity of physical play and often become overstimulated and "out-of-control". By playing actively with your child you are not only promoting good health and physical development but you are providing them with the opportunity to develop essential skills that will help them in their social interactions with peers.
The benefits of imaginative play for children:
Imaginative or pretend play, stimulates the senses, creates opportunities for exploration and creative thinking, and helps your child to develop key skills vital for intellectual and emotional growth as well as social success.
By creating their own world, children can freely try out and master new situations.
For instance, playing with cars, planes and boats will give your child the opportunity to get to know all the modes of transport. Likewise, by playing out scenes, he will get familiar with traffic rules, accidents, speeding.
Many role-plays involve simple imitation of adults; this helps your child to better understand what the world of adulthood is all about. Children also form self-identity through play. Cultural expectations and roles can be exercised when playing "family", "hospital" or "school".
Imaginative play is the form of play that is most social and has the greatest impact on the development of key skills important for children's success with peers. When playing creatively with their friends your child learns to cooperate and compromise (e.g., "I want to be the princess." "No. You have to be the Queen, you were the princess last time!"), to participate in social activities, and to understand social relationships.
Gender differences in play:
Research has shown that boys and girls do play differently and show clear preferences for different toys from an early age. Boys are seen to be more active in their play while girls' play is more sedentary and focused on verbal interactions.
Children favor same-gender play partners, this usually starts to emerge sometime after their second birthday and intensifies during the preschool and early school years. Do we as parents direct children toward activities and toys that further enhance differences in play and interaction?
As parents it is important that we expose our children to the full range of play experiences. Engage your child in both traditionally 'masculine' and 'feminine' play, while taking into account their interests and preferences.
When choosing infant toys, you should consider the toys that stimulate your baby.
The three best infant educational toys are blocks, balls, and cups.
Playing with blocks will help your child develop his motor skills and fundamental math concepts. Infants can follow a ball with their eyes, as it rows around. This kind of visual tracking helps coordinate your baby's eye movements with his body's movements.
As they get older and can crawl after the ball, they are working on spatial awareness -- How far away is that ball? This in turn leads to logical thinking – how far and hard they should throw a bar.
Stacking of cups is a good way to stockpile math and science skills. Between ages 1 and 2, he's starting to understand size relationships. Don't pressure him to do it the "right" way. As he gets older, he'll realize, If I put the small cup inside the big one, the medium one won't fit.
It is not only important to choose the right toy to stimulate your baby. Safety is also a crucial factor. Below are some tips for toy safety:
- Read and follow all safety instructions
- Toys for 3 years and below should be large enough that they can't become choking hazards and should have no small removable parts
- Be extremely careful with strings and cords as they may become wrapped around your infant’s neck.
- Toys should be clean when they are dirty and always clean according to product labels.
- Check toys frequently for damage. Damaged toys should be thrown away.
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