Learning through play
Children learn and understand concepts and emotions better through play. Playing is how they learn, it comes naturally to them. Sometimes it might not look like much is happening, but playing develops their brains and allows children to use all their senses - hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, smelling. Playing also allows children to move, which stimulates their motor skills.
For example, a game as simple as peek-a-boo develops object permanence (cognitive development) especially in early childhood. This means that the child will understand that the object will continue to exist even when it isn’t sensed in any way. It can also be said that peek-a-boo also aids in motor skills development, e.g. reaching out the arms when laughter and excitement occurs.
There are many such simple games in which parents can explore their child’s abilities and help develop or improve their cognitive, social, speech, fine motor skill and gross motor skill development. It is fun, educational and builds stronger relationships when parents get involved in play with their children.
Here are some ideas for how you can use play to improve your child’s development:
1. Cognitive Development
This is the child’s ability to learn and solve problems.
Because children are naturally curious, it’s good to have games in which they can pretend to be little detectives. A game like treasure hunt is simple and can be easily pulled off by using any bits and pieces found in and around the house. For children a little older, you can even get creative and use grocery shopping as a way to play this game.
Treasure hunt game at home:
Hide different coloured objects around the house and garden. You can use things like food items, utensils, clothing and books. If you can find pictures of the items you’ve chosen online or in magazines then print/cut them out and create little cards for to act as clues – this is a perfect way of identifying objects even when the child is still very young.
Now hide the objects you’ve chosen to include in your treasure hunt and hand the clue cards to your child(ren). When the child returns with the item(s) ask questions like:
- What colour is it?
- Is it round or square?
- Does it taste like anything?
- Does is smell like anything?
- Is it smooth or rough?
If you have older children, this game can be adapted to include a checklist of things such as:
- Find something hard
- Find something fluffy
- Find something smelly
- Find something cold
- Find something green
What ever you choose to include in the hunt, make it fun and interesting for your child(ren). They will unknowingly be learning a great deal from it.
As this is the age of technology – another great way of developing your child’s cognitive abilities is allowing them to play games using a tablet, phone, or a computer. This should be supervised and controlled but is a really good way to touch on cognitive development. Do some research to find good quality online games or applications.
2. Social and Emotional Development
This is the child's ability to interact with others, including helping themselves and self-control.
It’s hard for children to express their feelings and emotions. Emotion is very subjective and hard to explain. Try asking the child about the mood he/she is in and ask the child to describe and bad mood, and then a good mood.
To explain more complex moods you can play a game of charades. Come up with 20 different moods and write each of these on a piece of paper. Alternatively you can use images of facial expression to do this. Get the family and friends together (this also helps with social skills and gets the child to interact with others) and divide everyone into teams. Each team then gets a turn to draw a slip of paper from a hat or a bowl. Set a time limit on each person who draws and that person must then act out the mood on the slip. Another team member from the same team must then guess the mood being acted out, and that team scores a point if the answer is correct. Alternate teams and play until all the slips have been drawn. The team with the most points wins.
Here are a few examples of mood:
3. Speech and Language Development
This is the child's ability to both understand and use language
Oral development, or speech, is a good predictor of future reading achievement. Reading specialists say that “If a child doesn’t hear a word, that child won’t say that word”. This means that if a child won’t or can’t say the words then it’s much harder or even impossible for him or her to read it.
You can easily practice languages by playing games with objects around the house. Again, this might seem to be just a game but it is a great way of teaching your child how to use words and improve their speech.
You start by filling a clear jar or container with as many small objects as you can fit into it. Close the jar up with the lid and point to an item saying “I spy with my little eye (name the object) and you use it when/with”. Then let the child guess the object, and when the correct object and description is guessed, let the child hold the item. You can take turns – child names clues and you pick etc.
Children especially love using character figures from their favourite story. Try to incorporate as many questions/clues as possible and ask the child to describe the item as much as possible. Use colour words, number words and categories.
Another way to further use this game is to use more than one example of the same item (two cow figurines or three spoons). This will prompt the child to use language such as cows instead and cow and spoons instead of spoon (plural). Ask the child to sound each word as they go along.
4. Fine motor skills
This is 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 a crayon to draw.
This is where the child can really use their motor skills together with their cognitive skills (remember that cognitive development is their ability to solve problems).
For this game all you will need is tape (coloured tape instead of clear works better), and toy cars. Boys really enjoy this type of game. Make a zigzag using the tape, on your floor or any flat open surface (where the child can reach and move around freely). The zigzag must run parallel to form a road between the lines. This game is really fun to play with friends – like a car race. Let the child choose his or her toy car and place it on the starting line. Then explain that the car should not go out of the line or they will crash. If playing with friends, first one over the finish line without crashing (going over the lines) wins.
Another game that works well to develop the child’s fine motor skills is ‘fishing’. Print a few fish on paper, the child can colour these fish with different colours (red fish, blue fish, green fish etc.) and cut them out. Then attach a paperclip to each of the fish and place in a box with the colour showing up. For the fishing rod, use a branch, stick or anything that resemble a pole but is light enough for the child to handle. Tie a string to the end of the pole and a magnet to the end of the string. Then ask the child to “go fish”. Specify which colour you would like them to catch at a time. They must be careful not to ‘hook’ the wrong colour by controlling the direction in which the string sways. The child must then remove the fish from the hook (magnet) and place it into a bowl.
Weaving is a good hobby to learn, too. This absolutely teaches the child fine motor skills and the end products can be given as gifts.
5. Gross motor skills
This is the child's ability to use large muscles; sitting up, pulling, and pushing.
As with fine motor skills the child uses movement and problem solving to develop during this stage.
Balance is a good starting point to develop gross motor skills. A balance beam or walking along a straight line could lend to successful development of gross motor skills. There is an endless number of games you can play with your child to encourage development of this skill.
A game called ghost footprint is perfect to play. It involves tracing your child’s feet onto white paper and then cutting it out. Cut shapes out of coloured paper and paste these shapes onto the footprints. Tape the footprints into the shape of a circle, onto the floor. Play some music and let the child walk around the circle stepping on each footprint. When you stop the music, let the child call out the name of the shape he or she stops on.
Another version of this game requires the parent to paste the footprints in a long line. You will need a little extra space for his game. Start at a point far across the room from the footprints. Have the child run towards the line of footprints and jump to see how far they can fly over it. Now repeat this and challenge the child to try jumping further across the footprints each time.
Another quick game to play uses an inflated balloon. Invite some friends around and use the balloon to play volleyball. Keep score and get some fun prizes for the team who wins.