With 25 days until Christmas, there is no doubt the word Christmas is rolling off our tongues in daily conversations; some of which revolve around Christmas gifts for our children.
Last year, Toddlekind provided an inspiring Christmas gift guide for children aged 0 - 6 years, parents, and grandparents. There are some fabulous, unique gift ideas for the whole family, which you can view here.
As a play mat company, Toddlekind is a big believer in the importance of play so this year's Christmas gift inspiration focus' on play.
Interested to read more? We have previously discussed the importance of play with Occupational Therapist Leah, read here.
Different types of play
Play doesn’t have to involve an elaborate or expensive set-up. Simple play that allows your children to work with their hands and bodies, explore their space and observe their surroundings often costs very little and reaps the biggest rewards.
Play forms a big part in our little one’s development, but we don’t often appreciate just how important it is.
Go for a walk, you'll quickly see how a child will find play no matter where they are. Play involves climbing, shouting, hopping, spinning, touching, and running. Or pretending to be an adventurer searching for lost treasure, as they collect treasures - like leaves, flowers, and acorns - from the ground.
We talk more about the importance of playing outside, and being active here: Collecting Memories, and spending more time together as a family.
Essential for every child’s development – play is the most important thing they can do. During play, children develop and hone the vast majority of the skills they will need in life. From imagination and manipulation skills to socialization and emotional intellect.
Believe it or not, the list is longer than you think and includes more than imaginative and independent play.
Independent play is something you should always encourage. It allows you to get things done, or drink your cup of tea while it is hot! Once your little one can reach and grasp things they are moving into independent play. Toys vary according to age: babies will enjoy a rattle or teething ring. Toddlers and children will enjoy everything from a play (or mud) kitchen, dolls, books, blocks, and Lego!
Children are naturally curious, so will find “play” at almost every opportunity. But did you know there are different kinds of play?
Let’s take a look at the different types of play, and Christmas gifts that can help encourage and support play-lead learning.
Baby: 0 - 12 months
We are often at a loss for gift ideas when shopping for baby. My children always found joy playing in with the wrapping paper more than the gifts, so the key is to keep things simple.
GIFT IDEAS featured in this image: Bubble machine & bubbles | Bath toys | Toddlekind play mats: Earth Prettier Puzzle playmat (Clay) | Playrug (Stone) | Organic, fabric play mats: Waterproof (stone), Leaf mat (sea shell) and Luxe mat (stone)
At this stage, your baby will be engaging in unoccupied, physical, and even sensory play.
Unoccupied play doesn’t look like play because it happens during the fourth trimester. Your newborn observes their surroundings, learns to focus their eyes, experiences tummy time (building their muscles, and core strength) and makes random, awkward movements, that are the foundation for future play.
Read more: Different kinds of play mats.
Physical play is the earliest form of play (as we know it) to evolve. It evolves with age and includes:
- activity play such as: rolling, lifting their head to look around, and pulling themselves up. As they get older they will start jumping, climbing, dancing, skipping, bike riding, and ball play.
- fine-motor practice like picking up a teether, reaching for your car keys, or putting things in their mouth. As they become toddlers they will start to draw, play with play dough, stack blocks and manipulate action/moveable toys.
Sensory play is often fun (for your child) and messy (for you!). This style of play starts when you're child is ready, and continues as they grow so get out your splat mat! It is important because it supports your child’s nervous system and sensory integration.
What is messy play? It usually starts during meal times when your little one discovers the textures of food, how it feels in their hands, or splats on the floor. It will evolve into digging animals out of jell-o, putting pasta into different containers, or finger painting
Parent hack: Put the paint (and paper) inside a large zip lock bag to contain the mess.
Toddler: 1 - 3 years
You have a toddler, and life is now go-go-go. It’s fast-paced, it’s messy and it is a constant voyage of discovery ... for them, and you!
A few of the play styles that toddlers will engage in include onlooker, parallel, constructive and pretend play.
Onlooker play is when your child watches other children (or adults) play. They won’t join in, but they’ll be taking notes. Lay out your Toddlekind play mat, and sit down and show them how to stack blocks.
Watching helps kids gain confidence and prepare for future stages of play. Your child will eventually move onto parallel play where they don’t play together, but next to each other.
Don't dismiss the importance of this type of play.
Constructive play is about building, manipulating and cooperating with everything from blocks and lego, to play dough, sand, and even jell-o! Pretend play develops their imaginations. Think cooking up an imaginary meal in their toy kitchen, or helping a sick patient with their doctor's kit.
They also love to imitate you in daily life - so there is nothing wrong with a Melissa & Doug cleaning kit, coffee machine or pram and baby.
Children: 4 - 6 years
Now that your child is going to school, a whole new world opens up. It is a big, wide world that they need you to help navigate.
GIFT IDEAS featured in this image: Art & Craft including paint sets | Play doh (also great for toddlers) | Outdoor toys | Board games | Toddlekind play mats: Berber Prettier Puzzle playmat (Camel)| Playrug (Sandcastle)
Styles of play from previous ages will continue like sensory, constructive or pretend play but these will have evolved.
Pretend play will become dramatic play; dressing up will still be part of the fun but there will be more detail and dialogue. Drawing, coloring, singing and telling jokes are part of symbolic play.
Cooperative play is where everything they've learned comes together. Children start playing together playing a board game, building a fort with branches outside in the woods, or playing a group game.
"Play is one of the highest achievements of the human species, alongside language, culture and technology. Without play, none of these other achievements would be possible", Dr David Whitebread, The University of Cambridge.
Other images via Pexels (order of appearance):