Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The importance of play

Kari Hagen
  • Includes a recipe for homemade play dough
Kari Hagen, Alberta Health Services - As the holidays approach, families typically have more time to spend with one another at home (and fewer work and school commitments to worry about). It is important to create opportunities for play during periods of quality family time, as play helps children learn as well as aids the development of their brains and bodies.

In our society, we often focus on highly scheduled and structured activities instead of offering opportunities for unstructured play. In addition to encouraging free play, parents can also help their child’s development by talking, and reading and singing to them every day. Examples of this include describing the things we see in the world around us to our child and taking turns talking and listening. Parents and children can look at pictures books, read stories and practice rhymes with each other every day.

As children grow up they need to explore while they play. Make sure your child’s surroundings are safe both inside and outside when letting your child discover how to do things for themselves. Not only will they become more independent, they’ll also grow up with the valuable skills of how to “learn by doing.”

Introduce your children to new people and surroundings so they can find out how to get along with other children and how to handle new situations. Take your children to parks and playgrounds to make sure they have access to both indoor and outdoor play opportunities. Children need a variety of play materials and toys corresponding to their developmental age when they play. Outdoor materials may consist of a sandbox, snow, water puddles, soil and rocks. Indoors materials might include plastic containers, measuring cups, empty boxes and play dough. Think about your child’s interests and needs when choosing toys and activities, and enjoy playing together in a safe and stimulating environment.

If you end up spending a lot of time indoors over the holiday season, offering play dough to your child might be an activity that they would enjoy. Play dough encourages creativity and it is good for developing the muscles in a child’s fingers and hands. We can give children play dough to play with as soon as they stop wanting to eat it, most likely somewhere between 1 year to 2.5 years old.

Parenting/child-development programs/information in your area include: Best Babies and Building Blocks in Medicine Hat, Brooks, Bow Island, Oyen and surrounding areas, and Families First and First Steps in Lethbridge, Fort Macleod, Crowsnest Pass, Taber, Milk River, Raymond and surrounding areas.

Here is a recipe for homemade play dough:
Mix together:
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup salt
1 (13 oz - dry pack) Koolaid
3 tsp oil
2 cups boiling water

When the mixture is cool and makes a lump in the bowl, scrape it out onto a flour-covered counter and knead until smooth. Add additional flour if needed.

Store in a plastic container in the fridge.

Kari Hagen is a Health Promotion Facilitator with Alberta Health Services, and can be reached through e-mail:

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