The power of play in the growth of a child

Vanessa Mentor, an Early Childhood Development expert for Afrika Tikkun, writes:

I regard it as critical that we help change our approach to playing and educate society to understand that play enhances every domain of a child’s development.

Gross motor skills such as crawling, walking, hopping, skipping and running are strengthened when a child pushes a toy car or a toy grocery trolley and skips with a rope.

When they kick a ball they are practising coordination by balancing on one foot, while kicking with the other – integrating both hemispheres of the brain.

A child’s cognitive capacity is enhanced when playing games, figuring things out for themselves through trial and error – developing their problem-solving skills as they learn to make choices.

Through play, a child develops interpersonal and social skills by communicating with others, learning to cooperate with others and teamwork while learning how to become more empathetic and less egocentric. Playing with others, a child learns a system of social rules and the importance of learning to control themselves.

All children have a natural curiosity, to discover things for themselves, to make sense of their environment and the world. Children need our help to release that natural curiosity.

By creating fun, playful learning opportunities for our children, we help them learn, figure out who they are, how the world works, where they fit in and develops skills they need to learn to read and write.

However, not all parents do this – for a number of reasons and, to be fair, we don’t always know the challenges parents face, in particular, those who do it in the midst of poverty and disadvantage.

Facing the stress of survival, struggling to get food, money or shelter will tire or distract any parent. Parents may be overworked. They may not see their role as a parent – they may think they need to buy toys or not see the value of play itself.

But playing doesn’t need to take too much time and can be incorporated into everyday activities. You don’t have to buy toys; use whatever resources you have around you. This may make for more creative play. It shouldn’t also be seen as women’s work.

As you, the parent or caregiver, engage with the child, you will start to see the child’s level of understanding, interaction, and learning, increase. The advice I would give to parents is, just act silly; become a child.

Think of a memory you have of playing with your caregiver. Remember the impact that small activity had on you? Children long for their parents to play with them, they feel important and they feel that they matter.

They understand what love means from that experience. Playing is hugely important, but when a parent and adult shows them it’s important, the impact is so much greater. It makes an indelible mark on a child for the rest of their life.

Investing your time, joy and imagination in your child will not only protect and develop the child but it is also the best guarantee of future peace, security and prosperity for the community at large.

Read: National Police Day celebrated in style

What methods of play do you use with your children? WhatsApp us with your ideas on 079 439 5345.

Sipho Siso

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