Increased screen time can lead to higher need for occupational therapy for SA kids.
What is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapy is a term
becoming increasingly known to South African parents as one of the fields
recruited to assist with early childhood development, particularly in the areas
of play, motor and perceptions skills. A child’s occupation is play and
they develop and learn through play.
OT specialist Ray Anne Cook
recently addressed a group of parents at an OT workshop hosted by toy brand,
Toy Kingdom, and emphasised concerns around too much screen time. “When
children sit in front of a screen, they are not developing holistically; they
are not using their bodies to move. The screen is simultaneous visual and
auditory stimulation which is not calming or soothing for a child as much as
movement and resistance activities are. ”
The first two years are important
Cook explained that the first two
years in a child’s life focuses on sensory development, followed by sensory
motor development from ages 2-4 years which explores touch. “At the age of 2, a
child does not yet know where their body is and they need to explore and see
how their bodies can move in a 3 dimensional world.
This is where motor planning
skills becomes important so that children can learn to problem solve. Cook
highlights the need for traditional play time with educational toys that can
encourage problem solving skills. She believes that a child who does not learn
to problem solve in the classroom, playground or at home and in the community
will have trouble tackling issues later on in life.
Cook further stresses the
importance of nurturing a child’s interest when it comes to toys, and to not
force children onto toys that a parent thinks they should be playing with. If
the toys or games speak to the child’s interest, the child will be more
inclined to play.
Children need to learn from their surroundings
Children need to learn from a
very young age how to react to the world around them, and playing with toys
such as dolls and action figures can help with understanding feelings of
empathy, as well help to build social skills.
“Play is relationship building,
this is the space where social skills are developed and parents must be mindful
that it’s not about getting the game right, it’s about the experience the child
is having. Never force a child to play, let them discover their surroundings”
Giving your children the freedom
to move during play will increase their sense of understanding of their bodies.
If a child is frequently knocking into things, it is more than likely that his
or her sense of touch and body space awareness is underdeveloped.
Cook explains that even doing
something as simple as pulling a child on a blanket across the floor will not
only be fun for the child, but will teach him or her about the sense of
What kinds of toys do your kids need?
For many parents, knowing what to
look out for in their children when assessing their needs for further skill
development or occupational therapy can be daunting. Cook advises that
generally, if a child does not enjoy an age appropriate game or activity, has
difficulty engaging with his peers in play, is unable to participate actively
in everyday classroom tasks and is struggling to develop independence in age
appropriate tasks at home, i.e. play, dressing, feeding, toileting etc., there
may be a deficit or delay in skills development.
She also explains that often
children's resistant, controlling or avoidant behaviour can be the first sign
that they are finding something challenging.
Quality development in the right
areas can assist young children to inhibit the basic skills needed to perform
efficiently in the schooling and home environment,” says Grant Webster, COO of
The children’s toy store places
strong emphasis on using educational toys to help children develop the skills
needed to participate in their environment, and has recently introduced a
category system in-store for certain toys to help parents navigate according to
the skills the toys build on.
The types of toys that can
assist in a child’s development at home
The below provides a guideline of
what sorts of toys are suitable for children being treated for OT and how they
can assist in building skills:
- Toys that encourage problem solving – building blocks and toys
that encourage the ability to put parts together to make something are a good
choice for developing children’s motor and problem solving skills on a fine
motor level, as it gives them a chance to try and figure things out for
themselves. It’s important to also consider toys that will help build strength
in children’s hands, e.g. play dough scissors. This strength will be necessary
to take on writing amongst other daily activities.
- Things that feel ‘weird’ – toys with sticky or slimy surfaces help
children to experiment with texture. You can start with nature such as mud,
water and sand and then move to the synthetic feels. This can be beneficial in
ensuring children are more open to putting textured food in their mouths, and
is also a great way for them to get their hands working.
- Toys that require the use of both hands – learning to use both
hands well can help with colouring, cutting and writing. Wind -up toys are a
good example or even simply tossing and catching a ball.
- Toys that encourage pretend play – fantasy and play have long been
used to stimulate creativity as well as social skills in children. By
pretending to do or be something different, the child is practicing both verbal
and non-verbal communication, harnessing the skills to socialise and cooperate
with other children and adults. Toy Kingdom’s Shopkins range is a perfect
set-up for children to play with pretend food and enjoy make-believe
Have your kids had OT? Has it been helpful? Send us your experiences to firstname.lastname@example.org.