Wednesday, May 25, 2022

We live in an era where we can do almost anything digitally. Our children have gained a great deal from access to this information highway. Even our toddlers and preschoolers are using iPad, iPhone, and other digital devices. However, many experts are questioning the wisdom of utilizing this media for such young children. Physicians have cautioned parents about the effects of these devices, including TV, on developing brains.

A great snapshot of overuse of digital equipment is portrayed in a recent commercial for a specific airline. The commercial opens with a family of four who are waiting in line to board a plane. Everyone is occupied with their phones. Dad tells mom that he thinks there will not be any Wi-Fi available on the flight. Brother and sister overhear this remark. They abruptly stop their texting and shout “What, no phone service? What are we going to do during the flight?” Dad snickers and sarcastically says, “Maybe you will have to talk to each other!”

On a personal level, as therapists, we have encountered many children who do not “play.” Instead, they request the iPad or their mom’s cell phone and do not interact or play with the toys that are available to them. The latter type of play helps them problem-solve. It expands language. This play also promotes social skills and literacy. It will be the foundation for future cognitive growth.

As parents, we are consumed with carpools and homework, not to mention jobs. There are some simple activities to promote structured playtime that would take approximately 15 minutes a day. There is also a need for unstructured play, which only requires that parents have some rudimentary toys available for their preschoolers to use. Some recommended activities include:

1. Create a “costume box,” so your child can pretend by putting on assorted old clothing, shoes and hats. As a side note, animal hats and firefighter hats are available commercially.

2. Create an obstacle course of pillows, chairs and hula-hoops. Incorporate the prepositions, “over,” “under” and “through,” to music.

3. Use dishes and plastic foods to make pretend meals for stuffed animals or family members.

4. Use basic blocks for creating buildings, vehicles or just any type of appealing object.

5. Make puppets out of “single socks.” This can be great fun for creating dialogue and setting up scenarios.

6. Use Play-Doh with cookie cutters to let your child’s imagination burst with language.

7. Don’t just read books—act them out in dramatic fashion.

8. Go on a nature walk with your child and bring collectibles home to create a collage.

Parents should speak slowly and use simple language when communicating with their children. Additionally, avoid electronic toys and toys that simply entertain your child. The object of play is to ignite your child’s imagination and to encourage them to react and interact rather than be passive.

Esther Mehler and Rose Burstein have been early childhood specialists for over 30 years. As certified speech and language therapists, they bring an extra “sparkle” to their new “Mommy and Me” play program, Twinkle Tots. It is a program for toddlers, as well as preschoolers. Parents/caretakers attend each session and will engage with their child in a structured play format. For more information log onto our website at www.twinkle-tots.org.

By Rose Burstein and Esther Mehler

Sign up now!