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Tactile playFor every hour in front of a screen, 10 percent less time is spent in creative play.AAP Screen Time Warnings

Every parent needs to make it through the day, or at least through a meal, or maybe just through a shower. What to do? An educational TV program? Hand the child an ipad? How about creative play with open ended toys!

Sometimes parents feel like sitting a child out with a few blocks or nesting toys isn’t “enough.” I hear, “It’s not stimulating.” As long as you provide a safe environment for your child, independent, age-appropriate play will keep your child occupied while simultaneously providing rich developmental experiences. Children don’t need constant stimulation. They must take in information at their own pace to process it. Bombarding the brain and body with lights, sounds, or fast paced sequences has no benefit for a child. Open ended self-directed play teaches a child that he doesn’t have to be entertained to be occupied. The entertainment is discovery.

The AAP says this:
“Unstructured playtime is more valuable for the developing brain than any electronic media exposure. If a parent is not able to actively play with a child, that child should have solo playtime with an adult nearby. Even for infants as young as 4 months of age, solo play allows a child to think creatively, problem-solve, and accomplish tasks with minimal parent interaction. The parent can also learn something in the process of giving the child an opportunity to entertain himself or herself while remaining nearby.”

So what to do when mom really needs to take a shower?

  • Think of the five senses. Children need to touch, taste, smell, hear, see. Provide your child with safe objects that engage the senses.
  • Think cause and effect. This is my favorite way of describing a young child’s world. “If I do ___, then ____. If I push the ball, it rolls. If I drop my food, mom picks it up.” This is how a child constructs the world around her. This is how a child learns to affect her world. There’s no way for a child to determine cause and effect by watching it on screen. A child has to handle the objects.
  • Think spatial awareness. Children cannot get enough objects to play with spatial relationships. Great examples include hula hoops, nesting objects, kitchen containers, stacking toys, blocks of various sizes.
  • Think tactile exploration. Perhaps the worst part about screen time is the lack of tactile exploration a child experiences. A cold screen is useless to a child. A child would much rather enjoy running his fingers across a plate of sugar or molding a pile of playdough or flicking water. All you need is a big pan and fill it with whatever suits your child’s fancy. Yes, it will be messy but messy leads to discovery.
  • Think repetition. The brain is built with repetition. I like to think about snow-covered roads. When the first set of wheels drive over fresh snow, it creates a path. As more and more cars follow, a clearer and clearer path is created. This is the same way a child’s brain works. Neural pathways are created through repeated use and that’s how the brain gets strong for later learning.
  • Think music. There really is nothing more powerful than music for a child’s growing brain and body.

Listening builds attention…screens shorten attention span.
Feeling and moving to steady beat develops a sense of time.
Beat organizes and coordinates movements.
Music and movement story time encourages musical development through tonal, rhythm, and movement play.
Playing instruments increases eye-hand coordination.
Singing encourages the exploration of one’s voice.
Music develops a sense of own internal steady beat
Matching external beats develops ensemble skills and cooperation.
Movement and language activities develop body awareness.
Vocal play increases awareness of word sounds and language usage.
Pattern usage fosters memory retention.
Sensory input increases muscular movement and balance.
Exposure to a wide variety of music develops appreciation and understanding of the diverse world.
Sound and silence in music develop a strong sense of internal control and self discipline.
Body awareness is important in developing spatial orientation, which translates to learning and reproducing shapes, letters and numbers on paper.
Understanding of spatial orientation develops relationships with people and objects.
Predictability of patterns within music promotes learning concept of time, sequence and pattern.
Improvising (making up songs) provides opportunities for flexibility, change or rearrangement to encourage creativity
Emotional relationships are affirmed and strengthened in song and dance.
Exploring with instruments to encourages exploratory behavior.
Children learn to value music as another form of human expression and communication.

Music reaches the WHOLE CHILD by addressing all developmental domains: cognitive, language, physical, musical, emotional and social.

This post brought to you by Miss Lisa who is ready and willing to play, play, and play some more!