How early years play helps in holistic child development

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We worry about academic skills but how many of us check if our kids are preparing for life? In this piece, we see how play can help towards a wholesome learning experience.

Early Years is one of the most critical stages of life when holistic child development skills can be easily inculcated through play. This is so that the child begins to enjoy the learning process.

Let us look at 3 important varieties of skills that are good to develop between 2 and 5 years and what kind of toys can be used to hone these skills.

3 Key skills for holistic child development

1. Fine Motor Skills

The ability to co-ordinate the small muscles of the hand and use it in harmony with the eyes resulting in better eye-hand co-ordination. The ability to use fingers effectively is one of the most important skills to develop early in life for 2 reasons.

It is critical for daily life functions. Starting from simple things like opening a bottle to something complex like sewing, we have to use our fine motor skills in every part of our life. Self-help skills like buttoning, tying laces are critical for the holistic development of a child. These skills prepare them for life.

Fine motor skills are also the foundation for other “academic” or “intellectual” learning. When fingers are ready, children automatically begin to think or learn better, because learning can now be channelized through fingers.

This is what we call activity based learning, where the child experiences learning through the fingers. The advantage of this is that the child retains more information because anything that is learnt using muscles, obviously is more likely to be remembered easily and for a longer time than something that is learnt visually, or by listening.


Toy Suggestions

  •  Toys that start simple like stacking, nesting moving on to toys that involve complex actions like using 2 hand simultaneously
  •  Every toy that the child uses must be an opportunity to use fine motor skills
  •  Involve the child in all areas of daily life like washing vegetables, sieving, sweeping, independently wearing simple clothes and buttoning.

2. Specific Learning Objective Skills

This refers to specific “academic” learning related to the areas of numbers, language, sensorial development and more. For this it is critical that the learning be sequential, with every learning connected to something they already know in the same area.

For instance, multiplication should be introduced only after the child is very familiar with addition or complex word formation would start when the child knows how to form 3 letter CVC words easily.


Toy Suggestions

  •  Self-correcting toys that allow children to practice with the toy over and over again, for it is in this area that it is best to learn through making mistakes. The more errors the child makes, and the toy indicates to the child what is the right way, the better the learning will get. When the toy corrects the child with minimal adult intervention, the child becomes a more independent and happier learner.
  •  Toys that involve a good amount of fine motor skill. Learning to count would need to be through moving one object for each count, or learning about dinosaurs would need to be perhaps assembling different dinosaur types.

Check out 13 Shops for wooden toys in Bangalore! 

3. Cognitive Skills

The ability to concentrate, remember, logically analyse, infer and deduce are all included in the area of skills. This is not related to subject knowledge directly, but without cognitive ability, children would struggle to learn in various subjects later in life, hence this defines largely the learning ability of a child.

The critical cognitive abilities that can be developed in early years are short term memory and the ability to focus.


Toy Suggestions

  • Toys with a single objective help build focus
  • Toys that are enjoyable so that children play with them longer, thus increasing attention span.
  •  Toys that have memory games associated with them. All pairing toys can be used to enhance the memory function, where one part of the toy is in front of the child and the corresponding pair is at a distance or another room. Children love finding the right pairs and it is an excellent way to build cognitive ability.

These 10 sensory toys for neuro-diverse kids are excellent!

All these put together have a great impact on socio-emotional development as well. Avoiding toys which are unreal/ fantasy/ cartoon based at this time is a good idea. At this stage in life children need to build a positive self-image by playing with toys that they can relate to and see real life applications to. They are more likely to absorb real information when toys have a clear purpose. The better the learner the child is, the higher the confidence level. Happier children are also more likely to think about others and hence will be more empathetic as well.

All in all, learning through play with specific type of toys is ideal for intellectual, physical, social, emotional and cognitive development in early years.

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