Advice Column, Toddler

Let’s play!

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By Chantel Nortje, BSc Physiotherapy (Hons), UCT

Physiotherapist with special interest in paediatrics

In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world it’s easy to forget the basics when it comes to our children’s growth and development. Added to this, with society’s shift towards all things digital – media, television, hand-held devices, and online and digital games – not enough time is spent engaged in traditional games and activities that would normally encourage the development of sensory, perceptual, language and motor skills.

As modern-day adults, we need to remind ourselves that our children also have full-time jobs. Their work is to play and it’s a highly-skilled occupation that we need to encourage and nurture.

We all get into bad routines of not setting aside enough regular time to provide our fully-focused attention, engaging with our children while they play traditional games and enjoy fun, messy activities. It is important to note that a lack of exposure to age-appropriate stimulation can lead to difficulties and barriers to learning. With my training and experience as a physiotherapist, I see many children missing out on crucial development milestones and, as a result, they struggle more – and at an earlier age – in the school environment.

As children move and build their body’s strength through active play, they also develop important motor skills. One of the most significant benefits gained from encouraging active play is the development of physical stability needed for fine motor skills, which relate to the development of the small muscles of the hands needed for writing, cutting and other complex dexterity tasks later on.

It is helpful and fun to concentrate on playing games or doing activities together that include children using their body and shoulder muscles to encourage fine motor skills. Progress and maturity of these areas of development form the basis, and provide benefits, for school-related tasks such as sitting at a desk for a prolonged period, writing, cutting, drawing, tying shoe laces, writing from the left to the right side of the page, and motor planning (being able to plan and execute purposeful movement).

During my therapy sessions with children I have used a variety of the Tower Kids© products, including the sand art and foam mosaic, as mediums for strengthening children’s hand and finger muscles and developing fine motor skills. These fun, multisensory activities specifically target and strengthen hand and finger muscles by facilitating the repetitive use of various types of important finger grasps and hand postures over a prolonged time to create a beautiful craft that is unique and special. The benefit of developing these fine motor skills will positively impact school-related tasks, such as writing or cutting, and playing and having fun together is also a great way to spend quality time with your child.

I encourage people to slow down and really invest in the process of their children’s development and spending time playing with them, rather than trying to get ahead as fast as possible. Taking it a little slower and spending time together helps children to lay down really solid foundations that they can build on successfully in years to come. By engaging in activities aimed at particular areas of motor development, families can help children learn and cope with the ever-increasing expectations placed on them at school, while having fun at the same time!

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