Technology has allowed toys to become interactive, intelligent, educational and fiddly. With set procedures of use firmin place, routines and patterns to be followed, the toys of today can leave little to the imagination of the child. Play is the most important way a child learns about their world and how to use their mind. Imaginary play uses the entire spectrum of mind power to form knowledge about what it is to be here, as a person. We interact with the world around us and discover what it can do, what it means and what it feels like.
One thing about having a child with severe learning difficulties; is that I have learned even the simplest high tech gadget game does not meet her needs. The toy does not provide any enjoyment apart from a plastic shape with buttons and noises. Before long, it is telling her she’s made the wrong choice, asking her to try again and the toy ends up being a source of frustration for everybody. There is no room for actual play, if the process is not correct, the toy does not work. It is not really a toy, more of a puzzle.
What works? What have I found to be the source of most enjoyment? Play food! Anything that can be used in a role play environment, dolls, bricks, toy cars, model animals. As a lot of small parts can go in the mouth, it is important to avoid little bricks and to always supervise any activity but once a child is comfy with some toys, they will begin to use them. Give them space, allow them to create their own game world in which the rules are decided by them. It can be very surprising to see what sort of things they invent! Give credit for their skills, and offer to join in. Let them lead, by giving them the chance to direct the play session with their own mind and words, they learn confidence in their abilities.
When outdoors, everything in nature is a potential play thing. By remembering to respect all life, we can explore forests, build stick structures and collect leaves. To the eyes of a child, these seemingly simple activities are a source of excitement. The trick is to become excited yourself, and encourage your child to take part. If they seem apprehensive, just continue having your own fun. Be silly, do a little dance while you gather an armful of sticks to add to your forming masterpiece.
When choosing what to buy for a child, think about imagination. Can they play with this toy? Can it be used for anything but its original purpose? If the answer is no to either question then perhaps a different product would be better. A child can’t have too many building blocks or toy cars, they can’t have too many colouring pencils (brightly coloured wooden sticks that can be used for all sorts of things) and they can’t have too many books, even and especially if they are not strong readers.
A carpet can become a jungle and a model farm animal can become a talking magical beast. When the garden is a wonderland of imaginary giants and hidden treasure, why on Earth would a six year old press A for apple, only to be told to find B for bear? Remember that educational toys are great, and they have a purpose, but to educate the mind is to allow it to imagine, dream, feel confident in the formation of ideas. Imaginary play is much more fun.