IF you’re a parent and reading this now, you probably didn’t realise the simple games you played as a child, such as playing in sandpits, playing with dough or even writing on walls, were part of something bigger for your brain development.
Nowadays, this form of play - termed “touch play” and formally referred to as “senopathic play” - is not only being increasingly phased out by modern technological advancements such as playing puzzles on a tablet instead of physically laying pieces together, but is the most important play in terms of early childhood development.
In a fast-moving digital world, where children are glued to the couch with a hand-held device, give them an opportunity to experience the world through touch - a fun and engaging way to play and learn with endless developmental benefits.
This is according to parenting expert Nikki Bush, who believes sensopathic play is essential for growing children as it uses the sense of touch - the biggest sensory system in the body - to help children understand the world around them.
“Children learn through their senses, so the more they learn through sensory skill, the more they remember. If a child is on a tablet or phone, the surface is smooth, flat and cool. It gives the brain no input on texture or temperature, yet kids are informed of their physical world through touch”, she says.
Through touching, pushing, kicking or catching a ball, for instance, the brain receives strong feedback by not only mapping the world around them but also calming them. “Nowadays, children are hyped up by TV or computer screens and are operating at speeds they weren’t born to operate at. So lots of children either have sensory overload or sensory defensiveness. A lot of this is caused by them being confined to small spaces - not running around in the grass outside, or playing with mud,” she says.
Bush adds that the digital world has evolved so much that these days real toys and games have been replaced with similar screen-based games.
“Screens don’t provide three-dimensional learning. And these days a 4-year-old can play a shape-matching game on a tablet, but can’t do it in the real world. Similarly, a 5-year old can build a 64-piece puzzle on a computer game, but struggles to build a puzzle in class,” she says.
Bush believes children should be exposed to a variety of physical and technological experiences, and physical play shouldn’t only be limited to daycare centres and crèches. A good day care centre and school offers this form of sensory play, as well as having sandpits, jungle gyms and play dough.
“We need to stop leaving it to the school to introduce play and creativity. We also need to introduce variety at home,” Bush says.
“Even simple things like cooking, inviting your child to help in some way so they have a variety of textural spaces they engage in, is beneficial.”