The importance of play

Play is important for development.
Play is important for development. 

As adults we often underestimate the value that play has in developing children both mentally and physically. Play is your child's way of engaging and making sense of the world and cannot be overvalued. 

Take an activity like role play. This may appear to be a very simple activity, yet within it young children can learn the practical life skills of dressing, setting the table and how to cooperate and share with others.

The games and activities that follow require no specialist knowledge or equipment. They are based on key Montessori principles of learning through experience. Maria Montessori was born in Rome in 1870. She was the first female medical graduate of Rome University, became the director of the Scuola Ortofrenica, a school for children with special education needs, and by 1900, she was teaching Pedagogical Anthropology at Rome University. In 1907, Montessori opened the first Casa dei Bambini, a school for children from the slums. While there, she devised her now world-famous teaching method.

Montessori always claimed that she did not devise a teaching method but that her ideas on teaching children grew out of their close observation. From this, she discovered that children need to have joy in learning, a love of order and an interest in fact and fiction, as well as to be independent and to be respected and listened to.

The following activities are based on my interpretation of Montessori drawn from my years in teaching. They come with a list of any items you will need to complete the activity, simple step-by-step instructions and further extension activities that will continue to challenge your child as they grow in confidence and age becoming able to tackle more complex activities with you. Not only will your child be on a path of discovery, but you too will discover what excites, stimulates and frustrates your child - and you! But best of all, you will be able to share their sense of accomplishment when they master their new skills.

Here's a simple activity that your child will find endlessly absorbing and will provide an opportunity for developing hand-eye coordination and strengthening finger muscles.

Cardboard tube threading
Suitable for: 1+ years

You will need

  • Small bell or tennis ball or any small object wider than the end of the tube
  • Chain or cord about 1m in length
  • Knife to cut the tube
  • Cardboard tube (the type you have on the inside of a kitchen roll)
  1. Start by trying the bell or small object to one end of the chain. This will act as a stop for the tube and prevent it from coming off the chain.
  2. Put the chain on the floor or low table.
  3. Cut the tube in half.
  4. Demonstrate to your child how to thread the tube onto the chain and slide it back and forth.
  5. Remove the tube from the chain and allow your child to have a go.

Pasta threading
Suitable for: 3+ years

When your child has mastered the Cardboard Tube Threading they're ready to move to pasta threading which requires a great degree of fine motor skills.

You will need

  • Several pieces of string, approximately 50cm in length
  • Packet of rigatoni pasta (tube shapes)
  1. Put out the pieces of string and pasta on a low table or on the floor.
  2. Invite your child to join you and explain that you are going to show them how to thread the pasta tubes onto the string.
  3. Take a piece of pasta and thread onto string. When you get a few centimetres from the end, tie a knot in the string so that the first piece of pasta acts as a stop for the rest of the chain.
  4. Demonstrate to your child how to thread a piece of pasta onto the string.
  5. Now give them a piece of pasta to thread.
  6. Let them continue threading the pasta until the string is full.

Role playing
Suitable for: 3+ years

A role-play corner with dressing-up clothes is irresistible for young children. These are some tried-and-true role play setups that you can create at home. When you children's friends come over these games are a great friendship maker. All you need to do is assemble the props and give them some help getting started, then you can leave them to create their own role play.

You will need:

  • Play food or empty containers of real food
  • Toy cash register
  • Play money
  • Baskets or bags

With your props assembled, tell one child that he must be the customer, while the other will be in charge of the cash register and money. Tell them they can swap roles afterwards so they get a chance to play both roles.

Vet clinic
You will need:

  • Toy vets bag or doctor's bag
  • Desk area with toy telephone, paper and pens
  • Leaflets from your local vet's reception area
  • Pair of scales
  • Animal soft toys (which could be in lidless shoeboxes to create a recovery area - some could have bandages on them)
  • White coat of apron
  • Some boxes to act as animal carriers to bring in and collect the animals

Show the children how to wrap bandages around the limbs of their soft toys. You will probably have to help them with this at first. Make sure they only use the toys for this game, and don't enlist any family pets as their patients.

You will need:

  • Hard hats
  • Toy tool kit or tool belt
  • Toy telephone
  • Pad and paper
  • Checked shirt and dungarees
  • Building blocks

The children can have a go at building their own little structures. You could start them off by asking them to build things for you, beginning with something simple, such as a small wall with their building blocks.

Maja Pitamic is the author of Child's Play and I Can Do It, the successful activity book for ages three to five. These activities have been extracted from Child's Play published by Simon & Schuster Australia.

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