Play is one of the most important means for child development. At a very young age, children play to explore the physical world around them, while at the same time challenging their fine and gross motor skills. The toys they are most happy to play with are of a physical nature, stimulating to the senses. Later on, children play as a means to develop social skills. They learn to win and to lose, to reason with others, to be sportsmanlike, etc. while playing games outside on the playground or board games. They might also reenact parts from adult life to incorporate the values and norms of the culture, such as when children play house.SAM_0460

Unfortunately, nowadays some children are becoming victims of the consumer society, limiting rather than stimulating their development. How often have I come across children who were bored just because no game console was available! Or children that were bored because they had too many toys to choose from? During my trip to Africa, I realized children do not need many superb toys to enjoy themselves and stimulate their development. Consider the little Masai boy in the picture who made a game of rolling the tire around.

What can you do to stimulate your child’s development through play?
Some tips:

  • Provide your child with toys that fit his or her developmental needs. Especially during the younger years, toys will need to be replaced on quite a regular basis as the child progresses through different developmental stages.
  • Provide toys that target different areas of development. Think about gross motor skills, fine motor skills, personal independence, communicative skills, imitation, fantasy, social skills, visual perception & insight, focus & attention, etc.
  • Limit the amount of toys your child has access to. If there are only a few toys to choose from, your child is likely to play longer with each of these toys than he would if there were many toys readily available. This will not only improve chances for development in the area those toys target, it might also improve your child’s attention and focus. Furthermore, it might stimulate your child’s fantasy when he or she tries to invent new ways to enjoy the same toys.
  • Limit your child’s digital time. Some digital input is all right as long as there’s not too much of it; children learn to use digital sources (laptop, Ipad) very quickly and can use them to learn new things by watching YouTube videos or reading Wikipedia.
  • Be careful when buying irritable toys for your child. You know, the kind that makes a lot of noise and lights but does not really seem to add to your child’s development. You do not want to get annoyed with your child because he likes this toy so much!
  • Make sure your child has enough time for free play. Kids already have so much structure at school, daycare, sports, etc. nowadays. Children use free play to learn the things that interest them and therefore need lots of time to ‘just play’. Join in the fun some of the time and make sure there’s still plenty of time for play without adult supervision.

This article was originally published on Jet’s old website on Aug 5, 2013.

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