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Playtime: Hidden Super Powers

"It's playtime!" As parents, we say it all the time - sometimes it's to keep the youngsters occupied, sometimes to distract, and sometimes to ward off the dreaded "I'm bored". But did you know that many playtime activities aid a child in the developmental department?

There are the obvious ones like reading together (which has a significant impact on cognitive skills including language, literacy and numeracy) but there are many other beneficial leisurely childhood pastimes that you may not have thought of. Below are a few of our favourites: 

Fort Building

Definition: Creating a sanctuary out of otherwise common household items like boxes, blankets, pillows, etc.
Beneficial Skills: Problem-solving, creative thinking, spatial awareness, dexterity, cooperation, determination, divergent thinking and decision-making.   

Talk about early STEAM on steroids. Fort building opens the gates (floodgates that is) to so many developmental skills. But, let's talk about why this activity is so appealing to kids. Building a fort, or den, or cave - whatever your child has titled it - gives children a feeling of independence in a way. A place that is their own. A place where their imaginations can run wild and where anything is possible. Forts can provide a quiet haven away from the world's noise or they can be a safe place for observation, seeing but not being seen. All this while engaging their inner tiny engineer.

Simon Says

Definition: Verbally instructed follow the leader. A game in which instruction is given and the action must be acted out by the other players, but only if the instruction was preceded by the phrase "Simon Says".

Beneficial Skills: Heightened attention span, the ability to receive and follow instruction, balance, bilateral coordination, patience, and agility.

Easy set up-check. Multi-player-check. Ability to play anywhere-check. Improved listening skills-double check. Simon Says gets kids up, moving and listening, shifting between the part of their brain that takes in information and then engaging the part that's responsible for movement. 

From a motor-skills standpoint, Simon Says, can improve body awareness. What muscles do you need to use to walk like an elephant? Can you balance on your right foot while raising your left arm over your head? And from a cognitive vantage point, Simon Says relays the lesson of the importance of active listening. Did you hear "Simon Says" before the rest of the instruction? Do you recall the sequence of the instruction in its entirety, such as "Simon says turn around twice then sit down"?

 Hide and Seek

Definition: A game of search and discovery, but also a game of adaptability.
Beneficial Skills: Problem-solving, spatial awareness, forward-thinking, risk-taking, easing separation anxiety. 

This game seems to have a bit more primal roots than the others. Perhaps its origins harken back to skills sets required when we were a hunter/gatherer society. Regardless, today's version seems to have lasted the test of time, but why? There is some research showing that Hide and Seek is essentially a slightly older version of the infant game Peek-a-Boo. So it stands to reason that the same benefits that come from one should be amplified in an exaggerated version. One of the draws of Hide and Seek is the element of safe danger. Can you hide before the counted time is up? Can you stay still and quiet while the searcher is looking? Can you be separated from the group, knowing you will rejoin them at some point? Moreover, it asks the hider to think from the perspective of the searcher. If I hide here will they see me? Is this a good spot, or is it too obvious because I hid there last time? On the seeker's side, can you engage all your reasoning skills - sight, sound, spatial awareness- to find the other players?  Senses, for both types of players, are firing on all pistons.

I Spy

Definition: One player "spies" an object and then initiates the search for the other with a small hint. The other player observes and makes guesses based on the hint until the object is discovered.
Beneficial Skills:  Language development, spatial awareness, lengthens attention span.

If someone were to say to you "What is that thing called?" in a room full of objects with their simple question as your only clue, it would be pretty hard to tell what exactly it was they were asking about. However, if they rephrased to say "What is that round thing on the wall that ticks?" you'd be able to determine they were asking about a clock far more quickly. This is one of the skills the game I Spy can help develop, language descriptors. By surveying their surroundings and only being able to give or receive small hints, children must learn to observe and eliminate that which doesn't match the hint. Descriptors are an enormous part of our language and thus an early understanding is incredibly advantageous.

Nesting and stacking toys

Definition: Toys that are stacked on top of or into each other.
Beneficial Skills:  Colour and shape recognition, fine motor skills, creativity, spatial and visual perception, coordination and pre-math skills.

Stacking and nesting toys are an oldy but a goody! There's a reason these seemingly simple do-dads have stood the test of time, because they are awesome for brain development, and they're fun too! Here is the best part: playing with them on their own is great (think fine motor skills and imagination), but playing together can tap into a whole other set of skills, like sequencing and reasoning. "Which colour goes next in the pattern?" "Which is the biggest cup? Then which one comes next?".

Of course, these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. Any and all types of play will nurture your child’s development in one way or another. After all, in the words of Maria Montessori: “Play is the work of children” and with any luck, as parents, we can make sure our children are employed 100% of the time. Who knows, perhaps the next time you tell your child "let's play" you may just be nurturing skills they'll use throughout their life.