Play is essential in the first three years of a child’s life. Learning through play in those early years can stimulate the child’s brain development.
Carrie Lupoli, founder of learning specialists Live and Learn Asia (www.liveandlearnasia.com/), said that there is a lot of new research about the power of play and how it relates to brain development.
“All of us want to have successful and intelligent children and it needs to be known that this type of interaction with your child will help enhance that,” she said at the Fisher-Price Power of Play parenting workshop on Saturday.
According to Lupoli, the early years – from birth till age three – are the most critical time to engage children and get them into a mindset for learning and to build their foundation for that.
“If you ‘know’ you can ‘do’ and knowing our children is what allows us to ‘do’ better for them. It’s a good thing to know more about developmental milestones and what you can do with your children during those important stages of life.
“Why are we so focused on play? Because brain development in young children is so critical,” she said.
Lupoli informed that research has shown that play-based learning develops and strengthens the connection and the actual wiring in our brains.
She likened it to loading software on the child’s “hardware” or brain.
“You need to install the right software to then be able to use the right programs.”
Lupoli said that for healthy development, children need:
- Prenatal nutrition;
- Food, clothing and shelter;
- Secure relationships – early relationships affect how infants develop;
- Social interaction;
- Opportunities to explore; and
- Low stress.
According to her the “must do’s” for a healthy brain are:
- Relationships – children need to know that when their parents go away (to work or for a few hours) that they are coming back;
- Self-esteem – she advocates parents praising their children’s efforts to boost their self-confidence without going overboard;
- Communication – parents need to talk to their kids even though the small baby isn’t going to respond in words; and
- Play – builds social skills, cognitive development.
“Play is what your child’s job is right now. This will allow them to develop a better understanding of the world.
“There’s research that says that play will help children develop ‘theory of mind’. ‘Theory of mind’ is understanding other people’s perspective on life. In any kind of relationship – marriage, siblings, friends, colleagues – if you can understand their point of view, the conflict will be less because you can reason with where they are coming from, their perspective and align it with your perspective and then come to some sort of a happy median.”
She stressed that parents can guide their children and provide opportunities but it is very important that they allow the child to initiate play because “if they don’t want to do it, then they’re not going to do it”.
She also emphasised the need for parents to know the developmental milestones in the early years. This way, parents won’t be overly worried that their child isn’t at a higher developmental stage than they are now.
When playing, Lupoli said that the child needs to initiate play; children use repetition (all children do this, so they might want to play the same thing daily); process is more important than the result; there is no right or wrong in play; and play is a good indicator of developmental milestones.
To help parents choose good toys, Lupoli gives parents this guideline:
- Choose a variety;
- Not just “entertaining” toys (toys that make a lot of noise and have moving images);
- Tactile (something they can feel);
- Not all at once! (not too many toys and entertaining toys at the same time as this may overstimulate the baby);
- “Real” items vs flashcards (it’s always better to use a real apple than a flashcard of an apple, as it helps the child feel, explore, weigh, taste, etc);
- Pretend play (this helps the child be creative and use their imagination);
- Board books (another option for play);
- Puzzles (good for problem-solving skills); and
- Find new ways to play with regular objects.
(Source: The Star Online, April 18th, 2011)