Occupational therapy is a term becoming increasingly known to South African parents.
The growing availability of OT resources worldwide has enabled teachers, parents and guardians to identify issues early on that might have been left untreated for many older generations when they were still in school.
In early childhood , the acquisition of concepts, skills and attitudes lay the foundation of lifelong learning, a press release says.
“Quality development in these areas can assist young children to acquirethe basic skills needed to perform efficiently in the schooling and home environment,” says Grant Webster, COO of Toy Kingdom.
The children’s toy store has introduced a category system in-store for certain toys to help parents navigate according to the skills the toys build.
According to the latest Department of Education progress report, only about 45 percent of South African children aged 0- 4 years old take part in some sort of early childhood development programme.
Striking a balance between screen time and traditional play
Children need to learn from a very young age how to react to the world around them, and playing with toys like dolls and action figures can help with understanding feelings like empathy.
According to registered occupational therapist Dana Katz, educational toys, especially those that support fine motor, visual perceptual, planning and problem solving skills can help to develop more refined, higher level learning skills.
“Skill development is essentially like building a pyramid, if the lower building blocks are in place, we can continue to build on that skill. If all the underlying skills like gross motor, sensory motor, focus, awareness of the two sides of the body and motor planning are in place developmentally and the child is able to process sensory information effectively, developmental toys and games can be valuable in supporting higher level skill development,” says Katz.
According to a recent research publication in Britain, 25% of children aged 2-5 years have smartphones, while 56% are aged 10-13 years. Further studies in the US revealed that over a third of children under the age of 1 year are using smart devices. “Keeping traditional educational toys in the home for playtime is becoming increasingly important in this day and age of electronic devices, so that children can still spend time developing the basic skills associated with play,” says Webster.
Katz believes that moderation and responsible use is key in this area.
“Research has indicated that too much screen time can be detrimental to young children, impacting negatively on emotions and behaviour. Excessive screen time generally results in extended periods of sedentary activity, with a child often assuming a poor posture for long periods and focussing on a small visual field to the detriment of the peripheral visual field (which is required for much school based and play based activities). This in itself will impact negatively on a developing child.” F
Katz believes that children of all ages should be playing with traditional toys and playing actively and independently inside and outside. According to international standards, paediatricians recommended no more than 2 hours of screen time per day.
Does your child need OT?
For many parents, knowing what to look out for in their children when assessing their needs for further skill development or occupational therapy can be daunting.
Katz advises that generally, if a child does not enjoy an age appropriate game or activity, has difficulty engaging with his peers in play, is unable to participate actively in everyday classroom tasks and is struggling to develop independence in age appropriate tasks at home, ie play, dressing, feeding, toileting etc., there may be a deficit or delay in skill development.
She also says that often children’s resistant, controlling or avoidant behaviour can be the first sign that they are finding something challenging.
For those who have recognised some of these signs and whose children are perhaps already in occupational therapy, there are a variety of toys and role play exercises that can further assist in building essential skills while in the home. Putting some time aside each day for children to engage with these activities and can really help with furthering a child’s development, and ultimately enrich their experience in the world around them.
Toys that can assist in a child’s development at home
A guide to what sorts of toys are suitable and how they can assist in building skills:
* Toys that encourage problem solving – Lego and building blocks are a good choice for developing children’s motor and problem solving skills, as it gives them a chance to try and figure things out for themselves. It’s important to also consider toys that will help build strength in children’s hands for example play dough scissors. This strength will be necessary to take on writing amongst other daily activities.
* Things that feel ‘weird’ – toys with sticky or slimy surfaces help children to experiment with texture. This can be beneficial in ensuring children are more open to putting textured food in their mouths, and is also a great way for them to get their hands working.
* Toys that require the use of both hands – learning to use both hands well can help with colouring, cutting and writing. Wind-up toys are good example or even simply tossing and catching a ball.
* Toys that encourage pretend play – fantasy and play have long been used to stimulate creativity as well as social skills in children. By pretending to do or be something different, the child is practicing both verbal and non-verbal communication, harnessing the skills to socialise and co-operate with other children and adults. Toy Kingdom’s Shopkins range is a perfect set-up for children to play with pretend food and enjoy make-believe scenarios.