Playing With Purpose

Early development specialists have determined that some of the most permanent and effective learning takes place during playtime. Cathrine Versfeld caught up with an occupational therapist to shed some light on the best methods to help your children learn while they play.

When children play on their own with toys, or in a group, it may seem to us that they are just having fun. But according to occupational therapist and director of Limitless Occupational Therapy, Lesego Mashishi, there are some very important learning mechanisms that children trigger while playing. She identifies six distinct phases that parents can take advantage of, as well as how to assist children in getting the best out of these moments.

1. Unoccupied Play

Children develop and learn through exploration, which is a key component in all learning. During this phase, your baby will be relatively stationary and appear to be performing random movements with no apparent purpose.

  • Mashishi suggests that during this stage of development, parents should incorporate sensory stimulation into baby’s daily routine. This can be done by hanging colourful toys over the baby’s cot. The toys must provide auditory stimulation as well.
  • During bathtime, place baby’s hands together, simulating a clapping action in order to guide them in exploring different body parts on their left and right hand sides.
  • Supervised tummy time is also instrumental for unoccupied play. Placing toys nearby provide visual, auditory and tactile stimulation around the baby. This will encourage them to lift their heads and exercise their neck and upper limb muscles.
  • Placing baby on their tummy near a surface smeared with jelly works well to encourage baby to lick their fingers – an excellent way to encourage body-part exploration. 

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