Last updated on Feb 23rd, 2021 at 01:35 pm

Research has shown that play is the foundation for all learning. “During play, children learn certain social rules and explore their own boundaries,” says Bloemfontein-based psychologist, Jonaria Nel. “They learn the value of sharing and taking turns, but also to stand up for their own rights. And by playing with their parents, who are also their role models, they acquire well-developed social skills,” says Nel.
“Children can also freely express their fears and frustrations without fear of rejection or punishment,” she says. In addition, they develop gross- and fine motor skills, language, creativity, imagination and even intellectual ability.
Nel says that, through play, children experience a world of freedom where they can be bigger, stronger and independent, as they can make their own choices. A child’s self-esteem is built through play because they experience success with their own made-up rules, which they change constantly to increase their chances of success.

A toy for every age
Educator and author Melodie de Jager says that each developmental stage wakes up different senses and muscles, and builds different parts of the brain, which then need to learn to work together. “This happens while a child plays the same games repeatedly. When a game loses its novelty to a child, it means that the needed pathways have been built. If the child stops playing the game because she can’t do something, it means there are pathways missing, and you need to identify these and develop them. So, as the child develops, she needs more challenges and variety to keep developing the more complex pathways in the brain,” explains de Jager.

Tips for safe and stimulating play
Nel says it’s very important to have an adult participating or observing when children are playing. The adult should make sure that the environment is safe and that the toys are age appropriate. “An involved adult or parent makes children feel important, and it secures the relationship with a positive role model. The caregiver can also find out what the child’s needs and emotions are through directive play, and help the child to articulate herself effectively.”
“Rotating toys and the play environment will enhance various senses and improve the ability to adapt,” explains Nel. “Take time to listen to children, answer their questions thoroughly, and enjoy their young minds. When children feel accepted and loved, play will have a positive impact on their development.”

Our December issue (on shelves 19 November) is packed with an extra 13-page Toy Guide, (page 109), highlighting the best developmental toys for each major milestone in your little one’s life. Plus, each toy has been reviewed and awarded a stamp of approval from our occupational therapist, Samantha Toweel-Moore.

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