Scientific research over the past 30 years has taught us that the most important period of human development is from birth to eight years old. During these years, the stimulation of cognitive, emotional and social skills plus physical and mental health development are essential for success well into adulthood.
Although learning takes place throughout life, in this early stage it is taking place at a speed that we will never be able to master again. With adequate stimulation, a child’s brain forms neural connections at a pace of at least 1,000 per second or possibly even up to 1 million per second, says a 2018 UNICEF and LEGO® Foundation report on learning through play. Loving and supportive playful interactions that are joyful, actively engaging, meaningful and socially interactive experiences are known to trigger these connections in children.
This is why, during the first all-important 1,000 days of a child's life, creating learning opportunities are essential. In the first 18 months of life, children also start to build fine motor skills, learn how to communicate with others and start to formulate basic emotional responses. And play is an important an essential part of this early development.
“Play is an integral aspect of how young children learn,” writes Dr Elena Hoicka, Senior Lecturer in Psychology in Education. “It also gives children opportunities to make friends and have fun with their families.”
Simple games of peek-a-boo, shaking a rattle or singing a song teach young children about communication, develop their motor skills and help with problem-solving. Children are hands-on learners, eager to try activities which involve object manipulation, so something as easy as stacking and knocking over blocks allows toddlers to discover maths and science concepts, including shapes, colours, gravity, balance and counting. It also helps the development of children’s fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
Cape Town based occupational therapist, René Lynch-Clifford, adds that playing with toys like LEGO® bricks does wonders when it comes to nurturing imagination, creativity and cognitive development in children. “The role of LEGO® toys in a child's cognitive development is very beneficial. It helps with spatial awareness, and the ability to visualise and plan on a 3D level,” she says.
Lynch-Clifford expands on this by saying stacking block toys also help children in developing ‘visual closure’, which fosters visual perceptual skills that later become the building blocks to reading.
“If you observe a child engaged in play experiences playing with LEGO® DUPLO® bricks, you’ll likely notice patterns of repetition – this is how a child learns new ways to approach a task, experimenting with what works best to achieve the desired result, while developing their hand-eye co-ordination in the process,” explains Kristian Imhof Country Manager for The LEGO® Group in South Africa.
Though basic, these skills are the foundations for the accelerated growth that follows, according to LEGO®’s Play Well Report 2018. Developing motor skills will help children with school activities like writing, drawing, colouring and cutting and contribute to a child’s physical growth and well-being.
Playing can also help develop social skills by creating a platform where children can play with others – either together with family or with other children their age. Playing helps to teach your child how to share and communicate feelings, and gain empathy and understanding for their playmates.
LEGO® bricks can create castles, trains or planes – the possibilities are only limited by a child’s imagination. This type of constructive play contributes to the development of creativity and even mathematical reasoning. Freedom to play builds creativity and encourages a sense of curiosity, while ‘constructive play’ gives children a goal to work towards and a sense of progress and achievement as they go.
“Children are naturally wired with a desire to play – where adults might see a simple cardboard box, a child envisions an exciting new fantasy world where anything is possible. Spending time creating these realms of possibility in their minds is how children develop their ability to be creative and, ironically, to think outside of the box,” says Imhof.
It’s the simple, instinctive act of playing that opens a new world of opportunity to children and boosts their potential. Nurturing this cognitive development will help them develop the skills and abilities to navigate problem-solving tasks in school and even in the workplace later in life.
This post is sponsored by LEGO® and produced by BrandStudio24 for Parent24.