Before we continue to write about play, sensory play and the sensory materials we can use to engage our children in play, we thought it would be important to emphasise that play is so important in the growth and development of our children. We can’t overemphasise the importance of allowing your child time and space to play.
Play, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, is defined as a
recreational activity; especially : the spontaneous activity of children
Play is the time when children are allowed to imagine, create and innovate with whatever they have on their hands. I (Chiao Chyi) had the opportinuty to live in the UK for 2 years when my children were young (They were 1,2 and 4 years of age when we started our stint in the UK). We intentionally decided to put off formal schooling for the children (especially my 4 year old daughter), so that we had ample time to explore our surroundings, soak up nature, experience the seasons and have more than enough time for play.
We learnt through play most of our time there. When we were home, we had a short 1-2 hours of ‘school’, which involved writing, counting and the basics. After that, the kids were free to play. What did they do with all that time? They were left to their own devices alot while I cooked and cleaned and managed the home.
We always had homemade playdough available for the kids to create, work on their fine motor skills and play “shop” all the time. They made a mess, but their minds and bodies were happily engaged in the imaginative world that they enjoyed being in.
I saw the benefits of this approach in my children. They interacted alot with one another through play. That meant that they were discussing ideas, developing their language skills (Let’s set up a cake shop. What flavours would you like in your ice cream cake?), thinking of solutions when they met with challenges (e.g. Why are the lego blocks not stable? Is there a better way of constructing this?) and using their hands and strengthening their fine and gross motor skills unconsciously (I can roll this dough into a ball and squish it to get a pancake!). It was all this time when I felt guilty about leaving them alone to play that they grew in so many ways. School could wait, but play couldn’t.
We live in a day and age where we feel everything needs to be scheduled. The children need to be watched with a careful eye, and they need to learn, and learn, and learn. I don’t deny that these things are true, but I strongly feel that alot of learning can be done painlessly through play. We just need to give our children time and space to do so.
Sensory play is just one of the ways we can allow our children that freedom to explore, the time to engage in a world where they are left to do what children do best – play!
I found an interesting article about play and hope it will be useful for you as we explore how best to help our children learn and play.
Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges.
FROM THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS