In my previous blog I mentioned that playing with your children is a form of parental investment. As Christmas approaches parents, grandparents, family members and friends are beginning to think about another form of investment – buying toys for the little ones.
Here are some ideas on what to think about when buying toys…
Time to play
It is always useful to think about how the toys will be played with. Will you be helping to construct a tower, do a science experiment, build a train track or take part in some imaginary play? Also will you, as parents or family members, enjoy playing with these particular toys?
Remember, if you show an interest in a toy your child will begin to pay attention. ‘Shared attention’ is an important part of an infant’s and child’s learning experience. Between 9 to 12 months an infant starts to follow an adult’s direction of gaze and then by 15 months infants are beginning to direct attention themselves by pointing. Research has shown that if the child and adult are sharing the same focus of attention that this encourages social awareness and cooperation. Importantly, ‘shared attention’ also facilitates a child’s language development.
Different types of play
There are a number of different categories of play and they are all important for a child’s development:
Physical activity play
Physical activity play begins early in life with the rhythmical movements of babies. Then during the pre-school years there is lots of exercise play – running around, jumping and climbing. Even when children start school they still engage in lots of exercise play. Every time that I pick my granddaughter up from school she climbs up to walk behind the railings as we go up the steps. It is not a dangerous activity but rather a sort of ritualised form of play. Do parents notice that their children do similar things? I asked my 4 year old granddaughter why she climbs up and she said ‘because it’s fun!’
Play with objects
By handling objects a child learns what they can do with them. In early play we see babies passing toys from one hand to the other; then they will often mouth the toy. They are learning about the world and how it feels, tastes, sounds and smells. By 2 to 3 years children are engaging in constructive play with objects – building towers, stacking cups and doing jigsaw puzzles. Toys are also used for pretend object play where, for example, a stacking cup becomes a dish with pretend food in it.
Pretend object play is often a solitary activity but it has its roots in social interaction. Research has shown that infants and children become more creative in their solitary play if pretend object play is encouraged by parents and older siblings. Social pretend play requires ‘shared attention’ where both the parent and child have agreed on the play sequence. A teddy bear’s tea party is an excellent example of pretend play. What parent hasn’t drunk from a pretend cup? Social pretend play helps children to cooperate and to understand more about other people
Playing with words can happen at any time when we are interacting with young children. Word play can be stimulated by games or even nursery rhymes. Children love having fun with words.
Why do we play?
All types of play are learning experiences for babies and children. The questions to ask about different types of toys are: Could the toy absorb your child’s attention? Would the toy stimulate your child’s imagination? Is it a toy that has potential for the adult or older sibling to get involved in play? Choose toys because you would enjoy playing with your child with that particular toy. Why do we play? Well, despite all the research on play, my granddaughter’s explanation seems to make the most sense – ‘because it’s fun’!
Have a wonderful, playful Christmas with your little ones.