It seems that every time we turn on our TV set or look on the internet, we are bombarded with adverts for toys that are “essential” for our child’s learning and development. As parents, we always want the best for our children, and sometimes we become overwhelmed by guilt when we don’t purchase the latest toy! Of course, this is how the media and manufacturers want us to react, but is it healthy?
At our international kindergarten in Bangkok, we appreciate how important play is in a child’s development. There have been several studies recently regarding the amount of time that children spend playing freely and the time they spend taking part in structured activities. Unfortunately, structured activities seem to come out on top, with an over-emphasis on the educational benefits rather than a child’s overall development. It is something that can stifle a youngster’s creativity and imagination – something that could be detrimental even in adulthood.
Why is play so crucial in a child’s development?
As we touched upon, an over-emphasis on academia can adversely impact a child’s development as it can ignore other aspects of their development. For instance, play plays a huge role in cognitive development as well as improving social and emotional skills. Physical activity also enhances wellbeing, something that often goes ignored with structured activities or play using toys.
When a toddler enjoys their time without toys, it encourages them to develop “pretend play”. It is known to stimulate thinking, higher levels of communication and interaction as they want others to join in. The connection between language development and play should not be overlooked.
Symbolic play, a form of pretend play, involves the use of symbols or objects that represent something. For example, children often use a washing up liquid bottle to serve as a rocket or tables and pillows to represent a house. For the child to let others know what is in their imagination, they must communicate their thoughts, and this can start from a very young age.
The development of pretend play
According to Weitzman & Greenberg, 2002, the stages of pretend play development and language development run almost parallel. Below we have listed the steps, and their connection with language quickly becomes apparent.
Self pretend is a stage of play that usually occurs between the ages of 12 and 18 months. Children will pretend to undertake regular activities such as eating or drinking. At this young age, the child will perform one task at a time, but parents will be able to understand what they are trying to communicate.
- Simple pretend
It is the next stage and occurs between the ages of 18 to 24 months, whereby the child will use easily recognisable actions such as making figures fight or a toy plane fly. Often the play is accompanied by fitting noises related to the play.
- Several actions
Between the ages of 24 and 30 months, the child will pretend to carry out actions which they do on a day to day basis. A typical example is pretending to make a drink and serve them to a doll or teddy bear. Often, but not always, realistic accessories are used, such as cups and spoons. In many cases, something such as a stick is used to represent a spoon.
- More complex actions
Pretending to work in a shop or be a doctor is typical in children aged between 30 and 36 months, and this is evidenced by the array of toys available to represent these imaginary situations. In a shop, for instance, paper is used to represent money or toilet roll for bandages. Sometimes they will use objects that bear little resemblance to the actual item, but once again, parents can usually get the gist of the game
Children aged between 3 and 5 years often engage others in their imaginary themes. The themes often involve superheroes or pirates. Often props aren’t required, and gestures or mimes form a central part to the play. Language forms a crucial part where the child will explain their role and carry out the related actions. Doctors and patients are also a common theme with the “doctor” asking the “patient” where something hurts.
For older children, they often incorporate items such as sticks into their play. Sticks can represent a guitar, horse or even a fishing rod and sticks are particularly popular with children for their variety of uses. Children should be encouraged to explore and take an interest in nature, under supervision, of course, as well as other tasks that involve exploring and using their imagination.
The problem with toys
As we discussed at the start, the media plays a significant role in telling us what toys we should be buying. The problem is that a child will quickly become bored with a toy, especially if they have a lot to choose from. As toys become more sophisticated, they rely less on the child’s imagination and indeed “high-tech” toys can even inhibit play, interaction and even language. Toys can form a distraction for a young child who will only have a short attention span.
Choosing appropriate toys
Of course, it would be foolish to say that toys don’t have a role to play in a child’s development. When choosing a toy, you should consider the stage of development that your child is at. It is also worth considering the number of toys that you are buying. With short attention spans, a child is likely to flit from one toy to another, which can have an impact on their ability to concentrate. Books are always suitable for children because they are educational but also encourage a parent-child bond.
Did you find our article interesting?
We hope that this article explained why there shouldn’t be an over-reliance on toys in a child’s play. At our acclaimed International School in Bangkok, we strive to provide the ideal environment to promote learning. For more information, please call us on +66 2888 3337 and we will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.