Mother daughter playing with toys, play

With the holiday season just around the corner, parents have started asking their children what they would like from Santa this year. The usual list will see toys, clothes, electronics, musical instruments, accessories etc. But, apart from the usual material gifts that you will gift your child, think about reintroducing and reinforcing to your child the importance of play.

Parents today either do not have the time or have simply forgotten the value of playing with their children. Children too find themselves being  dropped and picked from school to crèches to extra classes. Any free time that they have is spent watching TV or glued to a screen. In the quest to give their child the best of everything, parents often lose out on giving them the most precious gift of all—one-to-one time with their child. And one of the best ways to spend with your kids is to play with them.

Studies show that children spending at least an hour everyday playing in a natural and interactive way tend to have higher intelligence and stronger interpersonal skills than others. Play is considered the medium through which children express themselves. Parents can use play as an effective technique to communicate with their children and help them develop their verbal communication skills too. Creative and make-believe play helps children think out of the box and use common objects and toys in ways that are unique to them.

Play can be of several types and develops as the child grows.  Stages of play are as follows:

  1. Solitary Play (0 – 2 yrs): Child usually plays on her own and is not interested to share toys or play with others.
  2. Spectator Play (2 – 2.5 yrs): Child observes others and tries to imitate them.
  3. Parallel Play (2.5yrs – 3 yrs): Children play side to side but in their own ways and do not interact, often seen in playgroups and nurseries.
  4. Associate Play (3- 4 years): Children are playing the same game but will not interact with each other.
  5. Cooperative Play (4 – 6 yrs): Children are interacting with each other and use their social communication skills to express themselves.

There are different ways play can be used for stimulating your child. The types of play are as follows:

  • Toy/ Object play: This uses toys and objects like balls, dolls, toy vehicles, animals or other objects and use them meaningfully.
  • Story telling: Telling stories using puppets is an effective technique that encourages the child’s creativity as they express the role of their puppets according to the story.
  • Role play techniques: Enacting super heroes or other characters from stories has a positive effect on the child’s self-confidence and develops their public speaking skills. It is often used in nurseries and schools on their annual days.
  • Creative arts technique: Children can express themselves using different mediums like drawing, colouring, painting, etc. This technique is widely used for non-verbal children. Art expression is a natural and spontaneous way of communication for children with emotional disturbances like anxiety, stress, learning disability, etc. Other art forms such as  dancing and working with clay are also used.
  • Imagery techniques: This technique uses dolls and doll houses or farm animals in a farm set up or a traffic scene or other make-believe situations. The child plays creatively using his/her unique experiences and communicates about them.
  • Communication games: These games can be tailor made to suit each child according their age and ability. Open-ended questions or situations can be used to initiate the child’s response to help them discover how they see their world from their own eyes; these might just be simple games of introducing themselves and saying what they like to do in their free time.
  • Desensitisation methods: If the child is afraid of certain situations like darkness or crossing the road for instance, different stories and role plays can help simulate these situations and try to ease the child’s fear.
  • Sports: Different sports can be taken up like swimming, football, basketball, cricket, etc . to encourage more outdoor time. These team sports are excellent in developing team skills, communication and group work.

If you are a parent, try to devote at least an hour playing with your child each day; besides sharpening your children’s cognitive and interpersonal abilities, it also acts as a great stress-buster for you. Spending time with your children helps you to think out of the box. So before you buy your child another gadget for a gift this season, think about how you can give him or her the gift of playtime with you.

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