Childhood should be filled with fun and play. Picture: Supplied
Childhood should be filled with fun and play. Picture: Supplied

Why touch play is vital to early development

By Marchelle Abrahams Time of article published Sep 20, 2017

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Parents are taking short cuts which is detrimental to a child’s foundation, a parenting expert tells Marchelle Abrahams.

As a child I remember playing in the backyard, making mud cookies with my cousins. School holidays were filled with digging in the dirt until we resembled monster swamp people.

Childhood should be filled with fun and play. It’s a way of exploring the world around you without even realising that you’re learning at the same time.

These days little ones are content with spending hours locked on to a screen and slouched on the couch. And the effects are showing

Parenting expert and author Nikki Bush knows this all too well: “In the classroom, children don’t have core strength to sit in chairs for long periods of time because they’re slouching in class. Why? They’re spending most of their time lying on a couch glued to a screen,” says the inspirational speaker whose methods equip parents with tools needed to nurture young minds in the digital age.

Bush believes that because of the digital space invading our everyday lives, one important aspect is lacking in children’s lives - sensopathic play. “Children are multisensory beings. They learn best when using all their senses at the same time.

"This is very important during the foundation phase years (up to 9 years),” stresses Bush.

Simple activities like learning to ride a bike or painting provides very rich feedback to the brain.

“The brain thrives on stimulation,” she adds.

Imagine the opposite effect - a child on an iPad is not getting 3-dimensional multisensory stimulation for their brain. “A screen does not give tactile input. Kids need physical interaction with the world.”

Bush says this is where parents are getting it wrong: “Children need to explore the world in 3D. They need concrete learning experiences with real people, in real time and with real toys. A screen doesn’t do that.”

When children do sensopathic play, they can explore their imagination and it encourages free play.

There are dozens of toys on the market that encourage sensopathic play, but why bother spending money when you have the tools at your disposal? Bush uses examples such as drawing on a child’s back with bubble bath during bath time; allowing him/her to draw pictures on the patio door and window with shaving cream, and crafting little figures out of play dough are just a few examples that guarantee fun, interactive multisensory experiences. There are many developmental benefits attached to each, including fine motor co-ordination and teaching a child how to feel emotionally safe and secure.

Give a baby custard to play with while in a high chair. Mom might be mopping up afterwards, but this simple activity gives them rich sensory input because it introduces them to texture.

Teachers are experiencing similar problems across SA, and again it comes down to the digital aspect. “Screens don’t provide three-dimensional learning. These days a four-year-old can play a shape matching game on a tablet, but can’t do it in the real world. Similarly, a four-year old can build a 64-piece puzzle on a computer game, but struggles to build a puzzle in class.”

Bush stresses the importance of giving every child an opportunity to experience the world in a very real sense and through the sense of touch.

“By ignoring sensopathic play, your child will not learn as effectively as when they are fully, physically engaged in their own learning creating meaningful experiences.”

Creative parenting expert Nikki Bush

Screens are not bad. What parents need to consider is what is it displacing, or rather, replacing?

When it comes to sensory play, think about what your child is learning about. In the real world they are learning to judge speed, space and distance. They can’t measure these with a 2D screen. Bush does admit that because we live in an increasingly digital world, they need digital skills. But, they also need the basics of multisensory learning.

“Technology is a fantastic enforcer and it comes with loads of rewards. Just make sure they have an understanding of the concept,” she says.

Often parents use a tablet as a digital babysitter because they need a few moments to themselves or to get things done. “That’s totally understandable,” says Bush. “But parents need to be part of the play equation.”

When playing with toys, children make a conscious effort to concentrate. When playing with them, learn to be resourceful and get them to concentrate for another five minutes instead of placing them in front of a tablet or TV. “Eventually, they’ll learn to use their own initiative.”

And boredom?

Bush’s solution is simple: “Boredom is good - it makes them push on and find other creative things to do.”

* Nikki Bush is the author of Tech Savvy Parenting. Visit her website:

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