Elda ASAEL FELDMAN, M.A
Play is one of the most fundamental parts of children’s development, allowing them to explore and understand the world around them. Play stimulates healthy development from birth to school age years and helps children to develop skills in five main areas of development. Appropriate toys and games for the developmental level of the child support their skills in these areas.
1. Cognitive Development refers to the developing functions of the brain such as processing information, learning new materials, thinking, making judgments, awareness and problem solving. Play promotes cognitive development by providing settings for children to think, take perspectives and develop imagination.
Ideas for improving cognitive skills: Puzzles, patterns, mosaic-type games, Legos, sequence games, sorting objects, characters and theme toys such as farm, school…
2. Social and Emotional Development refers to the child’s ability to self-regulate, interact and enjoy with peers or adults, express thoughts and feelings, show frustration in a healthy way, solve conflicts peacefully, wait for turns, and follow rules. Like any other skills, children develop these skills step by step over time with social experiences.
Ideas for improving social and emotional skills: Creating social situations for helping others, sharing, taking turns, independently dressing and self-feeding, social interaction games such as peek-a-boo or cooperative construction projects, games in circle times…
3. Speech and Language Development refers to the child’s ability to both understand and use language. Language develops in stages. First, children babble, then they produce individual sounds. By stringing sounds together, they produce words and as they learn the grammatical rules, they combine words into sentences to communicate properly. Playtime offers parents opportunities to foster their children language development. During play, parent can introduce new vocabulary and model how to communicate an idea or narrate a story.
Ideas for improving speech and language skills: Singing simple songs, using body language, naming objects and body parts, asking open-ended questions, allowing the child to express his/her thoughts and feelings, telling stories, letting the child tell a story to you, reading books…
4. Fine Motor Skill Development refers to the child’s ability to use small muscles, specifically their hands and fingers, to pick up small objects, hold a spoon, turn pages in a book, or use crayons to draw. Fine motor skills are important for school readiness and writing skills. These skills can be promoted through play in fun ways.
Ideas for improving fine motor skills: Lacing beads, cut and paste activities, crayons and paints, finger paints, play dough, peg games, building blocks, stacking toys, using tweezers…
5. Gross Motor Skill Development refers to the child’s ability to use large muscles in their arms, legs and trunk to learn how to sit up, stand up holding onto furniture, walking, running, and jumping.
Ideas for improving gross motor skills: Dancing, swimming, hide and seek, riding toys, catching games, obstacle course, throwing and catching soft balls, pulling and pushing toys, swinging and sliding…
As children get older, they learn to use their imagination and they get involved in pretend play. Pretend play, also referred to as symbolic play, occurs when children substitute one object for another such as using a spoon to represent a microphone or feeding a doll, or making two dolls interact with each other. During pretend play, children develop skills in different areas of development.
Children think of a scenario for pretend play, including the roles for each participant and the necessary props. In these roles, they practice both verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Children often invent situation where they can reflect their emotions and conquer their fears while practicing adult roles. They also have to work through conflicts with other children or adults and have compromises. As the play continues, they keep developing and testing new ideas.
Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. Toddlers love to copy what their parents do by pretending their actions. Parents can help their child by creating an environment with a variety of items that fosters pretend play. The play should be allowed to be child driven, where children can practice thinking and move at their own pace. Parents should encourage their child to build new ideas, without too much control over the play. Pretend play provides great opportunities for introducing new vocabulary, dealing with emotions and solving problems. When the play is controlled by the adults, children have less opportunity to use their imagination and reflect their feelings.
Choosing appropriate toys for children is important for promoting developmental skills. Toys should match the developmental stage of the child, should be challenging but not frustrating. Toys that can be used for multiple purposes and that can stimulate creative thinking are essential for playtime. Less electronic toys are advised as they limit children’s exploration and communication.