SINGAPORE - Parents looking for the best toy in the world should look no further than themselves.
Regardless of what and how many toys a child has, the benefit of any toy tends to be more lasting and significant if parents are also involved in their child's play, said Ms Alicia Lim, a senior occupational therapist at the National University Hospital.
And while it is good for children to play with toys that they are interested in, it is also important for parents to ensure that their children have a variety of them for holistic development, said Assistant Professor May Lim of the Singapore Institute of Technology.
Playing with a variety of toys, such as balls, puzzles and cooking sets, helps develop different abilities, she said.
She gives some tips on how parents can get themselves involved in their child's play.
Tips for parents
1 Be in the moment
Before parents even try to make play interesting for their child, they should be mindful of the moment of play and not be distracted by things such as e-mail and television news.
It is hard to play in an interesting way when parents are busy with other agenda. Children can sense it too. Make a conscious effort to put at least 15 minutes aside to enjoy quality play with your child every day.
Parents who find it boring to play with their children can try to think positively about the time they are spending together. They can take it as an opportunity for them to learn more about their children. During play, children often reveal what they learnt or has happened in school.
They can also remind themselves that children grow up quickly. Before they know it, their children will be at an age when they no longer want their parents to play with them.
2 Get down to the child's level
Some parents tend to stand or sit afar, telling the child what to do with the toy, instead of being on the floor, at eye level with their child, playing together.
3 Stop being too goal-driven
Parents should resist the temptation to be goal-driven when engaging their children in play. Though children learn through play, they can learn in many different ways, not only in what the parents hope to achieve or stimulate.
For example, in the pretend game of shopping in a supermarket with a toy cash register, parents can become totally focused on teaching the child maths by asking the child to recognise numbers on toy money.
Or parents cannot help but keep asking questions such as "What colour is this bear?" and " What colour is the banana?"
Being too goal-driven and wanting to teach the child something all the time can turn play boring and too challenging.
To make the toys interesting, parents need to relax and stop asking too many questions.
4 Be creative
There are many ways for a child to play. For instance, action figurines do not have to be fighting all the time; perhaps they could go on a picnic or take the toy school bus to school.
A bowling set does not have to be used just for bowling. Parents could make a game of hiding the pins and getting their child to find these "treasures".
Parents who say they do not know how to play may have to make an effort to think creatively about how to use toys in different ways.
Learn from the children. Observe how they play creatively when they get together.
5 Be playful
Apart from using toys, parents can think of how to use themselves to attract the attention of their children and make playing toys interesting.
For instance, they can put on a funny voice when playing with a particular toy or get on the ground and crawl like one.
Being playful helps to engage the child and make the play session interesting and fun.
Toy-buying myths and facts
Myth: Educational toys are good, so provide them as early as possible.
Fact: Children can learn through playing with most toys, whether or not they are marketed as educational toys.
The key is to introduce them at the right developmental stage. If a child is introduced to something too early, he is unlikely to show an interest in it and may even be turned off them later.
To find out about developmental milestones, parents can check the health booklet given to every Singaporean child at birth.
Myth: Dolls and cooking sets are for girls. Introducing them to boys will make them "girly".
Fact: Pretend play is important for both sexes. At the early stage of pretend play, children act out what they observe. If they see their parents or grandparents cooking, they would be interested in play cooking.
Pretend play involving dolls and teddy bears helps children develop their imagination and take the perspective of another person Through simple role-play involving dolls or soft toys, children learn to put themselves in the shoes of others.
Myth: Children need a lot of toys.
Fact: Children are creative beings. Explore the possibility of making toys with your child. For example, make a drum with a milk powder tin can and a pair of chopsticks, or use recycled boxes to make cars and old socks to make puppets.
When parents take time to make toys with their children, they are providing their children with both the gift of time as well as a toy.
By buying commercially available or television-advertised toys all the time, parents can sometimes dampen their child's creativity and lead them to embrace commercialism from a young age.
For example, a child's ability to imagine becomes weak when he cannot pretend that a stick can be a magical wand, but instead, feels he needs to buy the Harry Potter wand that comes in a box labelled Harry Potter from the toy shop.
Source: Assistant Professor May Lim of the Singapore Institute of Technology
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