2019 Jun 14
Here’s a riveting fact: The pace at which a baby’s brain develops within his/her first 1000 days are the fastest they ever experience in a lifetime.
Teddy bears, building blocks, tea parties and make-believe are in fact, powerful tools by which children learn through play. This defining period is crucial for a child’s brain development. UNICEF points to the importance of nutrition (eat), stimulation (play) and a safe environment (love) as three vital factors that influence early childhood.
Here, we discover the importance of play as an activity that goes beyond just fun and games but one that can have a remarkable influence on your baby’s social competence, cognitive skills and emotional wellbeing.
Babies start playing within the first hours of birth, beginning with their own bodies and moving on to toys and other objects that are made available to them later on. They explore their senses, mould relationships and essentially live through play. Play is all about exploration, problem-solving, finding, and helping them understand themselves. A safe, loving and enabling environment in this regard is crucial for a child, in addition to a lot of interaction and bonding time between the child and parents, caregivers and family.
Why do early years matter?
The speed at which the brain of an infant forms neural connections can measure from up to 1000 to even one million times per second- a mind-boggling phenomenon. These neural connection are stimulated by a loving, safe and nurturing environment that values socio-emotional development. As a child reaches three years, he/she is well equipped to explore and make sense of people, places and objects at their own pace and in their own way, through play. Later on, as schooling and homework replace most of a child’s leisure time, UNICEF states that play should still be considered an important part of their routine, especially since children over six years use play-based learning as a source of motivation, in addition to transforming their educational experience.
Tips for playing with your child
Play should be both relaxing and enjoyable. Be it when you feed your child, change their clothes or even as they take a bath; the opportunities for playing with your child are endless.
Infants and Newborns– Play in this age group is mostly visual. Looking at your baby eye-to-eye and establishing a personal connection and understanding certain cues is a great way to begin. Amusing games like Peek-a-Boo are bound to make your baby smile and send them into fits of laughter. Even though a playful act like covering your face and revealing it may seem simple, it can serve as one of your baby’s first learning experiences- where they master the concept of things disappearing and reappearing in addition to feeling safe emotionally.
In addition to visual play, other activities like engaging in baby talk are also important because it helps them build their own language, and reciprocate sounds they hear as they understand it. Parents can engage in baby talk during their usual daily routines like feeding, bathing or playing with the baby. In fact, it is their first step to learning a language and familiarizing themselves with speech patterns and melodies.
Toddlers and young children- Children will develop a newfound curiosity about the world around them and parents, caregivers and family should not get in the way of their pursuits of exploration. While making safety a priority, ensure that your child receives ample time to learn and discover new things on his/her own. Play in this age group is large and varied and children should be exposed to all kinds of activites.
Playing with clay, dough, sand and water or even dressing dolls can be an outlet for expression, in addition to boosting their creativity and artistic freedom. Other toys like building blocks, sand trays and jigsaw puzzles can help a child understand logic as well as recognizing different shapes and sizes. More physically demanding play such as run-and-catch, hide and seek, ball games, dancing and jumping over a skipping rope can improve flexibility, strength and coordination skills. Additionally, singing, playing an instrument and dancing can also help children grasp the concept of sound, rhythm and listening. All these activities demand a full mastery of their senses- be it visual, auditory, smell (olfactory) touch and taste.
How can play-based learning help my child?
Play is one of the best ways for a child to actively tap into their learning potential in an environment that encourages learning through enjoyment. UNICEF characterizes play as an activity that is meaningful, joyful, engaging, iterative and interactive-. A child learns to express themselves, expand their present understanding and demand answers for things they do not know, thereby creating meaning through play. A child also attempts to make full use of their physical, verbal and mental capacities when engaged in play. Play-based learning would also mean that a child will be placed in an environment that helps them discover new challenges, revise possibilities and practise new skills. Opportunities for play are also ideal for children to understand others and communicate ideas through social interaction. Thereby, children gradually learn to negotiate, share, resolve conflicts, forge connections and even advocate for themselves. Overall, play should be enjoyable. Coupled with the thrill, laughter and infectious giggles, your child is bound to look forward to play-based learning whenever it is made available to them, in both the home environment, and importantly in pre-school.
Encourage family, friends and other parents to spend more time with their child and share the many benefits that child’s play can offer.
Years from now, the skills they develop in those crucial first years of childhood will be put into good use- be it in their community, school or workplace. Make the most of your leisure time with your child, for the benefits they reap- socially, emotionally and cognitively- are bound to last a lifetime.
To help parents give the best start to their children including great play tips, UNICEF has launched www.BetterParenting.lk, a Sinhala, Tamil and English website that brings together comprehensive expert information in four areas; child care, child development, food and nutrition and health, through a mix of articles, video and animation.
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