Creating Meaningful Play for the No School Days

For the many of us who have children that have yet to reach the eLearning stage, having an active nursery aged child at home can test our patience. Whether we are finishing our time in quarantine or counting the days for nursery to open, finding activities that contribute to our child’s development during this transitive period can be a challenge for parents.

They are too old for playpens, yet too young to follow a preschool schedule—what can you do?

School is not the only place where your child can become stimulated to learn. Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children (AAP).

How to play?

There is no right or wrong way to play. But, moving from our own adult world into their child world may need some guidance, especially if both parents work and now are thrown into a routine that requires more hands-on engagement. As a working mom, the transition is mind-blowing.

Positive Play Experience

Playtime should be meaningful and be child-led. For this to happen, have the games in places where the child can easily see and ask for. Play is spontaneous. You do not always have to be involved in your child’s play. However, you do need to supervise – especially if children are playing with new play items or in challenging play spaces. The important thing is that your child feels good about what they can do when they are active.

Here are some activities to help you (the parent) to build engaging play that helps build the foundation for cognitive and physical development.

Sensory Development: The Basics

Playing with a small child the activities should focus on igniting their sense of touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. This type of play is called sensory play. This is the basis of all child play. Sensory play engages a child’s senses and helps children develop cognitive thinking, language, social-emotional, and physical skills. The activities here are the cornerstones to active learning and independent play.

Stacking/Legos (6mos+).  Whether they are stacking with legos or with the stacking rings, it helps them improve their hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness and color recognition.

Sensory bins (10mos+ ). A plastic tub or a large container of some sort filled with materials and objects carefully selected to stimulate the senses. The objects that you place inside can be with objects which are age-appropriate for the child. Ex: Pompoms instead of small plastic balls, large lego pieces instead of beads.

Puzzles & wooden block games( 6mos+ ).The organic experience of touching, sensing the surface, shape, volume, and weight of the wooden toys develop complex neurological connections in the child’s brain and enhances their memory.

Art (13mos+). When children are exposed to any artistic activity the brain is stimulated by the movements, colors and sizes; neural connections increase and the brain is exercised and strengthened. This activity is great for children under three years since their brain is maturing and is highly sensitive to external stimuli.

Through sensory play, children begin to develop physically and their perception of the world around them grows stronger. As they begin doing more with their toys other than shuffling toys around and having stronger limbs from physical movement, you can introduce these other activities that work on their fine motor skills. 

Fine Motor Skills Development: Preset for writing

Activities that focus on developing Fine Motor Skills strengthen muscles and dexterity in the fingers, which can help your child to use eating utensils, write and also tasks such as, dressing themselves and tying/untying shoelaces.  Here are some activities which you can introduce to them.

Stickers (15mos+). Whether it is on the table or in a book, or on their favorite toys (and sometimes mommy or daddy’s faces), the act of using their fingers to peel and stick strengthen their muscles.

Play Dough (15mos +).Children need to develop their finger muscles and have proper finger control before they can learn to write at school. During the preschool years, they develop these muscles through a variety of play activities. Playdough is one of the best for this. Children mold, flatten, squish, pinch, break and roll the substance.

Sorting color. Classification is a fundamental pre-number learning concept that children learn about the world around them. Classifying and sorting can be done with or without using numbers, such as separating children or objects into distinct groups, such as the color of their t-shirts, or their hair color. Children need to learn how to sort and classify before they are able to move on to work that involves numbers because they need to know what they are counting before they are able to actually count them

Threading. Threading can help to strengthen the small muscles in children’s hands as they grasp different sized beads. This will gradually develop the hand and finger muscles which helps them to hold a pencil when they start coloring or writing during school. If your child has not done this before, there are other exercises they can do to build them up for this exercise. You can start off with big pieces like penne and progressively get into beads. Or, you can do “pushing straw” activity (see next activity) until your child is ready for threading.

Pushing “Straws” You can take a straw (or pasta) and have your child push it through holes in a cup. If it is a straw, you can make it harder by using different color straws and calling out the color of the straw and have your kid push it through the hole. Now, if you don’t have color straws, you can also use different colored sticks.

Physical Development

Physical development is crucial, especially with establishing balance, alignment and keeping a healthy weight. But certain activities can help the joint and muscle to develop and support motions for eating and writing. And, the physical play activities especially when other children are involved can foster social development.

Dance & Move (12mos+). If you are into sports, go ahead and do them with your child. Or, have them in the same space as you while you do the exercise. Yoga, Zumba are all activities where children can move alongside with you. Dance and creative movement provide stimulation for three of those five senses at once: touch, sight, and hearing.

Bowling/ball (10mos+). Once your child can sit up or walk, they can partake in playing with balls. This activity improves kids’ motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and timing, which are important parts of the developmental progression of toddlers. Cognitively, infants and toddlers learn about the properties of balls: They bounce, roll down hills, are easy to move and difficult to keep still. Socially, they will learn social rules such as sharing or returning if playing with others.

Obstacle Course (6mos +). You can also create an indoor play zone and obstacles that incorporate crawling, hopscotch, ball throwing. It is up to your imagination and the size of your space.

Independent Play

As you introduce different types of play activities to your child, it is also important to provide time for them to decompress and make sense of all that is around them. This quiet time allows their brains to absorb all that they have experienced during the day. And this is good for the parent as well, to get some downtime. On average by the time a child reaches 18months old, they should be able to handle 45 minutes of independent play.

How do you engage your child and lead them in independent play? The activities listed above are all great examples that you can do with your child and then eventually allow them to get the toys and play quietly.

…Are Electronic Toys Bad for Early Years?

Marketers will always claim their toy is educational. From the customizable languages to the attractive blinking lights however, the best way to learn is through human interaction and joint playtime.

According to updated media guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction to develop cognitive, language, motor and social-emotional skills — all of which they cannot learn from digital media. It is especially important to note, with an electronic toy the parent will still need to be the mediator to create a stimulating connection with their child.

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