How to Incorporate Developmental Learning Through Purpose-Driven Play

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The definition of playtime has changed drastically since the introduction of technology. According to the National Institute of Health’s Medline Plus, most American children spend anywhere from five to seven hours a day in front of a screen. However, screen time is a sedentary activity, meaning that the child is physically inactive as opposed to being actively engaged.

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), recognizes that play is a child’s job or “occupation.” Play is instrumental in building social, cognitive, sensory and physical development. Through play, children learn how to problem solve, role play and attend long before they enter school. Toys facilitate play, encourage imaginary play and creativity which in turn, is conducive to active play. A child that is engaged in active play discovers his/her purpose as they organize and modify their environment for sheer enjoyment. Join in on the fun and provide a variety of toys, games and activities that foster development in the following key areas.

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills refer to the large muscle groups in the body that enable your baby to roll, crawl and sit so they can eventually stand, walk and run! Activities such as pushing, pulling, jump roping, climbing and ball skills strengthen the large muscle groups. Build an obstacle course, grab a ball or see who can jump the highest on a trampoline. Active play challenges balance and coordination, improves strength and endurance and allows your child to develop body awareness. So grab a ball, Hoola Hoop or a Frisbee and head outdoors.

Visual Motor Skills

Visual motor refers to the way your little one uses their eyes and hands together in order to reach, grasp and play in the most efficient way. Babies learn early on how to activate toys, reach and grasp.  Infants will enjoy activity mats, soft toys- as their coordination is still developing, rattles and cloth crinkle books. Older babies need plenty of opportunities to place things in and out of containers and explore toys that can be activated and manipulated like the classic wooden hammer/ball bench. Young children enjoy drawing with chalk and finger painting. The older child is now ready for coloring, drawing and cutting.
Visual Perceptual Skills

It is through visual perception that a child is able to visually make sense of the world around them. The ability to recognize shapes, objects and later, letters are foundational for school readiness.  For babies, simple shape sorters, single piece puzzles and picture books will help develop this lifelong skill. Older children can engage in I Spy games, interlocking puzzles and board games.

Oral Motor Skills

Oral motor development refers to the use of the lips, tongue, cheeks and other structures involved in feeding. Children can strengthen these skills with fun activities such as blowing through a straw to see if they can move a small piece of tissue forward, blow bubbles to help pucker the lips or play an imitative game of “Do What I Do” with your tongue: “stick out your tongue,” “move it side to side” and “all around the lips.” These fun games help strengthen lips for feeding and promote awareness of their mouths. Older children can learn to whistle or puff out their cheeks. Have them try a variety of horns, whistles and harmonicas.

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor refers to the smaller muscle groups of the hand. A child’s ability to grasp, release and pinch in infancy lead to a toddler’s ability to manipulate toys, stack places and hold a crayon. The preschool aged child can strengthen fine motor muscles with play dough. Use dry stamps to press in dough or push in small peg for them to discover and retrieve. The older child will enjoy rolling it out with both hands to resemble a snake and cutting it into small pieces by snipping. This also provides valuable sensory input and sparks creativity for pretend play.

Play is a child’s “occupation” and serves as a springboard to academic success. Adults can provide a safe and secure place for children to engage in playtime that is both purposeful and fun. All of the developmental learning areas listed above are great ways to help facilitate purpose-driven play, which in turn fosters independence and mastery over a child’s environment.

About Lisa Cummings
Lisa Cummings is a San Jose State Alumni with more than 25-years of experience in pediatrics. She co-founded HOOT for Kids, a unique approach in enhancing a child’s play time through the use of quality toys, fun activities and play tips and hand-selects each toy individually. She also works as a pediatric occupational therapist, specializing in children 0-9 with various physical and developmental disabilities. As a mother of four and with experience working in clinics/schools on the east coast and throughout Orange County, Cummings is passionate about children and her emphasis on treatment. She is a strong believer in purpose-driven play and believes that toys are essential to development of the whole child.