We are about to celebrate Mia’s first birthday and I have come to the deep realisation that raising a child is more grace than knowledge. It warms my heart to know that despite all the mistakes I’ve made getting through the ups and downs of Mia’s first year, God’s grace has been more than sufficient to cover it all.
I would like to share one of my moments of grace or “grace treasures” as I call them. Mia and I explored with a few principles as we enjoyed our precious playtime together. Being the occupational therapy mom that I am, I want my playtime with Mia to be highly effective in terms of developing her skills, and these principles have helped me to accomplish that. Parents frequently ask me the question: How do I know what the right games are to play with my child and when should I play what games? My answer: There is no set recipe. Developmental play is unique to each child and it should be part of your routine and daily interaction. Set recipes can be disastrous if your child doesn’t fit into the picture-perfect mould. Let’s be honest, none of our children fit in this mould because each one is unique. Unlike a one-fits-all recipe, I’ve used these principles with great success. Play activities need to be purposeful and create opportunities that boost and enhance your child’s overall development.
- Let your child show you what her interests are – Be mindful of what she likes to explore and play with.
- Make a game of it – Be creative and reshape your child’s interest into a game by using what you have at home.
- Play with a purpose – Keep in mind that you can purposefully work on developing certain skills like gross and fine motor skills, sensory stimulation, cognitive and communication skills, midline crossing, balance and many more. Always play with a purpose, otherwise you are just keeping your child busy.
- Let your child lead – If you structure the game in such a way that your child is in charge, you will keep her interest.
- Grade the activity according to your child’s ability – You have to hit the sweet spot for playtime to have developmental value. What do I mean by that? Well, if the activity is too easy, your child will not develop and learn to master new skills. If the activity is too difficult, she will stop participating. Stretch your child’s abilities to work in an uncomfortable but safe zone. The aim is for her to put in effort, not struggle and give up. Go beyond easy but stop before the activity gets too difficult.
Let me give you an example of how I applied these principles with Mia. She loves packing and unpacking the kitchen cupboard with all the plastic containers (Principle 1). She dumps it out on the floor, plays with it for a while and takes off – leaving me to clean up the mess. Since she loves it so much I saw the opportunity for her to play with purpose. I placed a few of her favourite toys in some of the large containers and some of her favourite snacks in the smaller containers. I stacked it back in the cupboard and called her to come and see the surprise I had for her. While she was watching, I took out one of the smaller containers, opened it and made a big fuss about the snack inside. I then closed it and put it back in the cupboard (Principle 2). Mia needed no further invitation. She started unpacking the cupboard while relentlessly trying to open each container to see what’s hiding inside. While Mia was thoroughly enjoying herself, she was packing and unpacking, opening and closing containers and continually moving from a sitting to a standing position. She was practising her fine and gross motor skills while strengthening her muscles in preparation for walking (Principle 3). I allowed Mia to play on her own, choosing which containers she wanted to open and I gave her plenty of praise and encouragement when she showed me the treasures she found inside (Principle 4). When she battled to open a container, I helped a bit by opening the one corner of the lid so that she could manage on her own and continue playing (Principle 5).
I am a great believer in utilising what you have at home to stimulate and develop your child. This is a simple, fun and easy activity that needs only a few minutes of preparation and it has great developmental value. You are more than capable to identify and create countless activities, like this one, on your own.
MommaMia Tip: Be in the moment and observe what your child is naturally drawn to, add a bit of creative thinking and you are well on your way to develop your child’s full potential. Enjoy applying these principles during your special playtime. Remember to always play with a purpose.