Creative play helps children to develop

Kicking a ball, cutting with scissors, holding a pencil and sitting up straight - these seemingly simple tasks are crucial to ensure that young children are fully prepared to start primary school, say experts.

Kicking a ball, cutting with scissors, holding a pencil and sitting up straight - these seemingly simple tasks are crucial to ensure that young children are fully prepared to start primary school, say experts.

These skills form part of early childhood development and, combined with recognising sounds and counting, give children who were taught at preschool an advantage over those who didn't.

They are best learnt through stimulation and play. Parents are also responsible in ensuring that these are mastered when a child is six years old.

Sadly, this is not always the case for children in disadvantaged areas, said Ian Corbishley of The Unlimited's Operation Abantwana.

Looked after by minders with little or no training Corbishley said some of these children "sit in a room staring at the walls the whole day".

Based in KwaZulu-Natal, Operation Abantwana provides educational toys and trains child minders in early childhood development to child care facilities in rural areas, townships and informal settlements.

Corbishley said children who are stimulated sufficiently by "plenty of toys and space to play" at an early age, have "a better chance of succeeding" at school.

"This, however, does not mean that they can't bridge the gap over the 12 years of schooling, but it gives them an uphill battle," Corbishley said.

The government has set 2014 as its target to ensure that all children have access to Grade R, known as the reception year, to ensure that children are fully equipped to start school.

Experts say that seemingly simple tasks such as beading, cutting with scissors and catching a ball help children enhance fine motor coordination and gross motor coordination skills.

Fine motor coordination skills include those that require coordination between the eyes and limbs such as cutting and pasting pictures and tying shoelaces.

Gross motor skills involve the use of "big muscles" in the arms and legs such as throwing and catching a ball and sitting upright.

Educational psychologist Ken Resnick said children who are ill-equipped at these skills are often clumsy, their handwriting is not legible, have difficulty sitting up and lose concentration in class.

Resnick said that children need skills to render them "independent and happy" enough to be enthusiastic about learning.

"Children need to be encouraged to do things for themselves to build their independence and self-confidence."

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