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“Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb.” The importance of play!

Whilst driving along in the car on the way back from an appointment the other week, I was listening as ever to radio 4. The obituary show “The Last Word” came on and they were talking about the death of Gordon Murray, the creator of Camberwick Green and Trumpton (children’s television shows in the 1970s).  It brought back memories.  I used to love those shows.  So, in a fit of nostalgia I went on Youtube and looked it up to see if I could find any old editions to watch.  Well, what a funny treat!!!!

Aside from the happy memories that came flooding back, several things struck me.  Firstly, how slow paced the programmes were in comparison to today’s fast, frantic world.  It seemed to me that this taught children to wait.  Secondly, I was struck by how lovely the language was.  It is full of beautiful vocabulary and rhyming!  Such an enriching experience for kids!  Mind you, I did laugh out loud when the episode I watched talked about how “Windy Miller likes cider” and tells children that “cider is good”.  I can’t imagine that being in a children’s programme today, can you?

I’m sure that every generation looks back with nostalgia and thinks life was much simpler, but I really do think that for my generation of children we preoccupied ourselves more simply.  You couldn’t access tv cartoons almost all day long, you couldn’t play games and watch things on phones and tablets, in the car, in the supermarket, in bed and at the table.  We spent our time playing games with real people and real toys and not just that, but also created games out of abstract objects.  This enabled us to use our imaginations and be creative.  We developed so many skills through this.

So where am I going with all this?  Well, lots of parents ask me what they can do to help their little ones with communication difficulties?  I’ve found myself saying “play with them” a lot lately.  Play helps children develop in so many ways.  It develops language skills, helps them with vocabulary, but more than that it helps develop their symbolic understanding, their attention and listening skills, memory, abstract thinking, social skills and imaginations.  Play is important for the development of their brains.  Learning to play well, both by themselves and with others, sets children up to be contented and sociable.  It is through play that children engage with and make sense of the world around them.

It’s good for parents too.  It will help you bond with your child and encourage them to communicate with you.  Spending time when you focus completely on your child will tell them their value to you.  It can bring you closer together.

Play enables children to explore and to imitate.  This is where it is crucial to their communication development.  They’re listening to and learning language when you play with them.

Play doesn’t have to be complicated.  You can involve them in drying the dishes and make a game out of it.  Get down on the floor and make some roads out of masking tape.  Push cars along them.  Pretend to stop at some imaginary traffic lights.  Grab a saucepan and some dry pasta and pretend to make a meal.  Feed it to a doll, or a toy doggie.  Pretend to wash a toy car with a water spray.  Push a ball backwards and forwards between you.  Sing songs and nursery rhymes to them.  Encourage them to join in.  Play clapping games, swing them in a blanket, blow bubbles, count pennies, build towers and knock them down.  When you’re doing this your child will pick up lots of new words and lots of skills.  You will find yourself commenting on what you’re both doing and saying things like “look the blue car is wet”, or “oh oh, it’s fallen down”.  Believe it or not simple comments like these are exposing them to verbs, adjectives, nouns and concepts.

Give it a go, I promise you it will reap rewards.