'Play, especially free play guarantees that skills develop by themselves. Do not lead; just listen and observe. Leave the toddler to their own devices.' This is the mantra followed by this month's guest blogger. Akshaya Nandakumar, mother of an adorable toddler, Maya, talks about how playing is important for your child’s uninhabited growth and gives easy to follow tips to encourage your toddler in indulging in screen-free ‘old fashioned’ playing.
Nine times out of ten, when someone asks my toddler what she's doing, she responds, “playing”. The only times of the day she isn't 'playing' are when she's eating, or asleep. After all, what could be more important? Studies have shown time and again that giving children the time, space and opportunity to play helps develop their cognitive and social skills, while fine-tuning their motor abilities. From discovering their interests, to helping them build resilience, play is the most obvious way for children to develop.
My 2-year-old daughter Maya and I love playing together. Over the last two years, I've watched in amazement as she went from a baby who could barely lift her head when we played peekaboo, to an infant who could crawl after a ball, play with wooden toys, to a toddler climbing trees. Here’s what my learning has been on how you can encourage your little one to play more.
DISCOVER PLAY WITH YOUR CHILD
There's no age-appropriate skill that requires any parent-led prompting or 'teaching'. Play, especially free play, guarantees these skills develop by themselves. Don’t lead, listen and observe. Leave toddlers to their own devices. After all, if I try entertaining my daughter, I can only tell her the little that I know. When we let her imagination guide both her and me, we leave ourselves open to rediscovering everything. A rattle becomes a hat that she tries to balance on her head; a pencil becomes a bridge for an ant. The possibilities are endless. I feel strongly about a nap and bedtime routine, as well as eating meals at set intervals. Other than this though, our schedule is wide open and I'm happy to have my daughter set the agenda.
SET THEM FREE
We only have one cupboard of 'toddler stuff'. This includes her books, art material, and eco-friendly toys. However, as far as toddlers are concerned, the world is their playground! Once our daughter was born, we childproofed the house to a reasonable extent, and then gave her free reign. Instead of restricting her, we restricted the place around her so she can do whatever she feels like in the house.
GIVE THEM TASKS
It’s the best way to get your work done while your little one is following you. To an almost-two-year-old, everything is an opportunity to play. Whether she's helping me water plants, examining kitchen equipment, or clipping up clothespins, it's all a wonderful game. I rarely prep ‘activities’ for her, because day-to-day tasks give us enough to do.
LET THEM PLAY DIRTY
The universe is a big and wonderful place, with plenty of opportunities to play. You need to take your little one outdoors and allow her to touch and feel and smell the world. When I take my daughter out, she observes older children and their games, and gets dirty in mud piles with the rest of them. Dirt washes off, after all, but the delight of getting messy is unbeatable. Grass is an invitation to run; water absolutely has to be splashed about in, and poured, and spooned, and jumped in. I don’t see a mess, I see motor skills being developed. (Psst: I invite her to help clean up because that, too, is a game!)
FIND THEM COMPANY
At not-quite-two, she isn’t yet old enough to actively play with toddlers her age. Nonetheless, two-three times a month, we go out with toddlers who are around her age. The moms get a chance to unwind, and the babies watch each other grow; occasionally engaging in some parallel play. There are, of course, plenty of mom and toddler programs out there with great reviews. I haven’t explored them personally, so can’t recommend any. I can, however, affirm that just following your baby’s cues, and indulging in screen-free ‘old fashioned’ play produces a happy, engaged baby, with all age-appropriate milestones and skills perfectly in place! So, tell me, how do you play with your child?