Research on the educational benefits of play is not new; however, the findings have primarily focused on early childhood development due to the importance of the early years for a young, developing brain.
“Children’s free play contains the roots of mathematical learning 46% of the time,” according to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek from the University of Delaware in the United States.
Extra stimulation through different activities can contribute to brain growth and the ability to network, which only happens once in a lifetime, during the first years of a child’s life. .
Parents and caregivers looking for tools and activities that can help develop their children’s curious young minds can turn to the following suggestions from Mari Payne, Director of Education and Outreach for Sesame Workshop South Africa.
Keeping in mind that every child develops at their own pace, Payne provided her guidelines and advice based on different age groups.
Read our entire series on the baby brain: Your Baby’s Brain Explained | “Three times more active than an adult’s brain”: the preschool years
From birth to approximately 24 months
Payne says when toddlers follow objects with their eyes and cry when activities don’t change quickly enough, they show signs of thinking and learning.
She says babies can begin to create images and ideas in their minds and make decisions about those images. For example, they begin to remember that invisible objects are always there, such as an object hidden under a blanket.
Recognizing familiar faces and sounds is a sign of their working memory in action. Their brains become increasingly capable of retaining information for long periods of time, Payne says, suggesting the following age-appropriate activities for your baby or toddler.
She says parents can play hide and seek with their toddlers to help develop skills to differentiate themselves from the world. This will teach them that they are separate beings and that the caregivers will come back even if they haven’t seen them for a while.
You can use different shapes, blocks and simple 2-3 piece puzzles with your baby to practice problem solving skills.
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From two years
According to Payne, children begin to hold information in their minds at age 2 and may be able to follow two-step instructions such as “take the toy and put it in the box.”
She notes that they also improve in self-control, such as not touching a fragile object when told not to, and that they begin to understand other people’s plans or goals, for example. example, bring a diaper when they see a parent changing their sibling. .
Parents and caregivers can practice perseverance by building towers with blocks and, when they fall, rebuilding them, according to Payne. They can also play games like “Simon Says” and other games where they have to follow the rules like “Dance and Freeze!”
Payne says it will teach your child to practice controlling their movements and following directions.
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From the age of three
By age three, Payne says understanding how to open doors or play with objects on their own is a sign that children are beginning to solve simple problems independently.
She says children may be able to remember directions in two or more steps at this stage. For example: “Please wash your hands, then come sit down and have dinner with us.”
Appropriate activities for children at this age can include matching games to help memory and asking your child to find identical objects in books or around the house.
While asking them to do these activities, Payne encourages parents to help their children feel good about their effort, not just about the outcome. Saying things like, “I see you’re working so hard on this puzzle, really thinking about where each piece fits.”
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From four years
Payne says children around this age can hold even more information in their minds as they show they can remember instructions with multiple steps and remember two rules simultaneously. For example, if you tell them, “wipe your shoes on the carpet outside, then take your shoes and socks off at the door.”
Payne says this age group can also start thinking about the future.
As a parent, she says you might notice this when you read a book together when your child tells you what he thinks will happen next in the book.
Payne suggests parents provide activities that will help them make predictions and look ahead as they read together by asking children what happened and what they think might happen next.
She says parents can also play simple board or card games with their children to help them develop critical thinking.
She finds it helpful for parents to ask their children to predict the next steps in their daily routine. For example: “First we scrape the plates, then we put them in soapy water. What do you think we do next?”
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From five years
This age group may delay gratification for longer periods. They may wait 15 minutes for an activity to begin instead of fussing.
They are also more likely to remember rules where one thing depends on the other: for example, “When we’re dressed and ready, we’ll go play with our neighbors.” If we take a little longer, we’ll go this afternoon instead. .”
With this age group, parents and guardians may engage in activities that encourage trial and error, such as stacking and arranging objects, for example, during household chores or doing puzzles (with around six to ten pieces).
Payne also suggests playing games where the rules change such as “Follow the Leader” to help children learn to think flexibly.
While stimulating and developing your child’s brain, encouraging children to ask questions, be curious and discover new ideas and ways of doing things is essential in our daily activities, says Payne.
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