Your baby or toddler can be your perfect resource for play ideas. Any activity can be fun to young children, and any type of play will allow them to acquire new skills. As a parent, you are your child’s favourite playmate.
Here are our top tips on how to make play fun for you and your child:
1. Let your child set the storyline
Hand them over a toy or an object and see what your child does with it. What storyline do they start to weave? There is no right or wrong here, just look at what your child does and learn a “new way” of playing with that toy/object.
2. Take it slowly
There are lots of fun toys for children age 0-3 and with some, you may need to show your child how they are used. However, try not to do it for them every time they want to play with that toy. Encourage your child to play with the toy by themselves, independently of you. For example, if you are stacking one block on top of another, do the first few pieces, then let the child continue.
The main point is that it is ok to provide your child with just enough guidance as to avoid frustration and motivate them to learn new skills.
3. Read your child’s signals
When they are very young, children have a different way of expressing their emotions. As language is not always their ally, they use other ways of telling you when they’ve had enough or when they are frustrated: they might use their hands, change facial expression, or use different gestures.
Follow your child’s behaviour when they play: are there any signals that precede a tantrum? How is your child telling you they are bored, or want to stop playing? Learn to identify these signals and you can also sort out the activities your child loves from the ones they don’t.
4. Review the play area
Whether they are playing at home or in the park, make sure that the play area is child-safe. Furthermore, ensure that the area is also suitable to the activity you want to play. For example, if you want to run or throw balls, you will need more space as compared to painting or clapping hands.
5. Repeat games
Playing the same game over and over again is not necessarily as much fun for you as is for your child. But keep in mind children learn through play, therefore when they can “do it” all by themselves, they get an immense feeling of confidence and joy. They become aware of their own competence and want to reinforce the feeling over and over again.
The more they practice and master new skills, the more likely they are to take on new challenges and the learning continues. So whenever you are tempted to put away toys because you feel you cannot handle playing with one more time, remember how essential repetition is to your child’s development.
6. Get creative: adapt activities to your child’s needs
If your child has special needs, they might find play time a bit more challenging. However, do not forget play is still an important part in your child’s life, and activities can be adapted to your child’s needs:
- Identify distractions in the environment: These can be (but not limited to) noise, light, other people, animals, other toys etc. If your child seems distressed during playtime, you can try moving to a quieter place, or a place that is less populated.
- How does your child respond to new things? Like any other children, children with special needs can react differently to new stimuli: they can be very receptive, or they can be overly-stimulated. This is why you can try introducing new toys gradually. Pay attention to the way your child reacts to different toys (a plush bear versus a toy fire engine that makes loud noises), as it can help you forecast how they will react to new objects that are being introduced to them.
- How does your child react to different textures, smells, and tastes? What do they love to touch, or smell? Some objects may be particularly enjoyable to your child to hold, others’ textures might appal the child. Follow their signals and adapt the play activity accordingly.
- Involve peers. Just like any other child, a child with special needs should learn socialisation from an early age. Encourage your child to develop relationships with others, both adults and children alike. You can do this by arranging playdates in the park, or during a library story hour. This way the child can acquire social skills such as sharing, conflict resolution, and empathy - and also help the child for school.