As parents and carers we sometimes get trapped in the idea that we need to educate our children as much as possible to prepare them for the “real world”, or alternately we just simply feel pressured by the busy-ness of life and opt for some of the easy-now (hard later) options that technology offers us…
But it’s crucial to remember both to keep them in balance and increase their motor and cognitive development by encouraging your children to have lots of ‘free playtime’.
Babies spend nearly half of their waking time doing things like waving their arms, kicking and bouncing, and while it may appear all this activity is pointless, a baby is never ‘just moving’ or ‘just playing’; every action extends the child’s development in some way.
With this in mind, we need to allow children plenty of time to play independently. Although they may seem happy in a pram, a car seat, a bouncer or a seat placed conveniently in front of the TV, it is important that we do not ‘containerize’ our child more than absolutely necessary. “What’s the harm?” you may ask, “It’s a win/win situation, isn’t it?” However, not allowing your child to experience the world around them can have serious consequences for their motor and cognitive development.
Whenever possible allow your child time to move about, explore their world and entertain themselves with a variety of objects, such as cups, balls, spoons, string, a plastic mirror, etc. Every time a child reaches out to touch something new their neurological synapses connect, eventually building circuits that are strong enough to trigger the next developmental milestone. As your child grows older, teach them to do stimulating activities like blowing bubbles or balloons, building with blocks, doing puzzles and counting beads.
Of course, beware the trap of trying to force your child to do ‘constructive’ activities all the time. Children need ‘time off’ as well, which means just letting them entertain themselves and initiate their own activity, whether that involves making something, reading, drawing or just daydreaming.
It is important they be allowed to take initiative, to have unstructured time in environments which encourage their own form of creative activity.
For the young child, imaginative free play is especially important because it nurtures the kind of creativity which
will be transformed into creative thinking. It is excellent preparation for reading, where written symbols must be corresponded with objects, actions and abstract concepts. When young children are using their imaginations in play, their brains are working and developing in a much healthier way than when they are being made to sit and copy pages from a workbook, for example.
For more easy ways to encourage your child’s development, please read Ticklish: New Ways to Help Your Child Learn, Love & Play.
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From the desk of…
Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani