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Playtime tips and ideas

Photo: Try to turn everyday activities into a chance to learn through play

In your child’s first few years it’s very easy to become focussed on them meeting various developmental milestones and forgetting about the importance of play and fun.

Making time to interact with your child one-to-one and providing fun and stimulating activities can greatly improve their emotional wellbeing, build bonds and improve their communication skills.

Play has developmental benefits for all children and it’s an opportunity for children to enjoy, explore and express themselves. Play doesn’t always need to have a purpose or be organised, it can be flexible and reactive.

Playing alone is also important for creativity, self-esteem and imagination. You don’t need to be involved in every minute of your child’s play – you can encourage them to get started and then leave them to explore.

Many thanks to the British Toy and Hobby Association and Make Time 2 Play for their contribution. Make Time 2 Play is a not-for-profit campaign helping to give a little inspiration so that everyone can make time to play. For more information please visit their website www.MakeTime2Play.co.uk.

How to get the most out of playtime
  • Be child-centred - respond to the child, take their lead with play activities and let them show you what they want to do. Your child will feel more motivated and engaged in the activity if they are in control of the situation.
  • Whenever possible, make sure your child is paying in an environment with good listening conditions. Try to find somewhere quiet with minimal background noise. Soft furnishings will help to improve the acoustics.
  • Make sure the area is well-lit so your child can clearly see your face and with no distractions.
  • Try and use gestures and signs to support your speech. Facial expressions and body language are also important during playtime.
  • Try to be on the same eye-level as your child. It may help to sit or lie on the floor. This will make it easier to maintain eye contact whilst playing.
  • Nearly every part of your daily routine can be made into playtime – car journeys, bath time, mealtimes, bus rides or going shopping. Encourage games and play that will help your child to explore these situations and also make them more fun. For example, whilst on the bus, why not sing ‘the wheels on the bus’.
  • Encourage your child to play with, or around, other children. This may be at a local park or play group. When children play around each other it gives them the opportunity to see how their peers do things and for them to try and copy. This can also help to develop their communication skills as they learn how to interact with others.

When your child has additional needs, such as deafness, it’s easy for parents and family members to feel like they need to help the child with everything they do. Play is a safe environment for your child to take risks, make mistakes and learn their own coping strategies for tasks they will face as they get older. Allowing time for mistakes during playtime will help your child develop independence and confidence.

Individual play is just as important for children as playing with others. It allows your child time to explore objects and discover how it relates to their environment. There isn’t a correct way to play with a toy. For example, you might see a child banging a plastic phone onto a drum. Although this isn’t its intended use, the child is exploring sound and movement which is essential for their learning.

Remember, play isn’t just for children. By getting involved and letting your child take the lead you will have the chance to relax, be present and enjoy spending time with your child. When they’re in charge of the activity your child will feel more confident to show you their way.

Playtime can also really help your communication as a family. If you’re learning a new language, such as British Sign Language (BSL) or encouraging a hearing sibling to maintain eye contact when speaking, play creates a fun environment to practice this.

The Three ‘Rs’
  • Rhyme – singing poems and nursery rhymes is a fun way for children to practise controlling their voices, both in terms of volume and frequency (also know as ‘pitch; e.g. high or low-pitched sounds). It will also help them to recognise the intonation (the rise and fall of the voice) used in spoken language.
  • Rhythm – songs and playing with instruments can help your child recognise rhythm. This supports the foundation skills needed to develop language e.g. beats on a drum, pat-a-cake and clapping.
  • Repetition – repeating songs and nursery rhymes is important to reinforce language development and improve your child’s ability to take in information that is presented out loud, process it, retain it and then recall it (auditory memory).
Tips for playing with babies
  • Sensory play – if you have a large tray or bowl, fill it with different objects or textures for your child to explore. This could be old clothes, plastic, wooden items or even food (it goes without saying - make sure there is nothing sharp or dangerous in there!).
  • Play peek-a-boo using lots of facial expressions.
  • Mark-making activities such as finger painting and drawing in the sand or on blackboards can help develop hand-eye coordination. It can also help in learning how to express different emotions.
  • Children love to make noise! Why not give them a wooden spoon and a box so they can have a go at making noise themselves.
  • Sing songs like ‘row your boat’ and sign key words, for example, ‘crocodile’ or ‘scream’. Encourage your child to join in and sing/sign with you.
  • Read out loud. Sit in a position where your child can clearly see your face and the book. You could even get some objects and toys that are shown in the book, so they have the real thing to explore.
Tips for playing with a toddler
  • Every part of your day can be transformed from routine into playtime – describing things you see around you, repeating words and phrases and making funny faces.
  • Point to objects as you go through your day; name them, sign them, make up a silly rhyme about them, sing nursery rhymes and do actions to match. This will help to reinforce your child’s memory of objects and the things around them.
  • Children love to be creative and make noise. You can try making musical shakers from empty plastic bottles filled with rice grains or dried pasta shapes. Blow into an empty plastic bottle or cardboard tubes to make trumpets, rattles and toy horns. Decorate them with paint or coloured paper and make sure the lids are tightly secured. You could also try mouth organs, castanets and tambourines.
  • Play a matching game, using photos of objects or a variety of facial expressions (happy, sad, scared, angry etc.) cut out from magazines, then sign a word and ask your child to choose a matching photo.
  • Play ‘I spy’ using signing.
  • Tell stories using speech, sign and gesture. You can also use visual memory clues such as photos, pictures and objects to prompt your child’s memory.
  • Blow bubbles. The movement and blowing pressure needed for blowing bubbles will help build muscles in the face and mouth, which are essential for communication and language development
Tips for playing with a young child
  • You don’t have to be at home to play. If you have a spare 10 minutes you can develop your child’s auditory memory by playing memory games such as ‘I went shopping and bought…’ where you list items and they have to repeat them back to you, adding one each time.
  • Encourage active play, particularly outdoors to get children fit and build their confidence in the world around them.
  • Make simple finger puppets with scraps of material and then draw different faces on each finger, showing different emotions. These can be used for lots of activities such as story telling or singing songs.
  • Encourage children to control their voices through role play by exploring different pitches and tones. Try different voices, gestures or facial expressions. Why not pretend a phone needs answering, echo microphones, or a knock at the door. Ask or sign ‘Who’s there?’ and role play the visitor.
  • ‘Simon Says’ is a great game to practice listening, observation and copying skills.
Toys and games
  • You don’t need to find different or specific toys for deaf children.
  • Check the age warnings and recommendations on toys to find ones that are appropriate for your child’s age and level of development.
  • Toys which make noises may be useful for your child to learn about different sounds which can help develop their listening skills. This can also be beneficial for awareness, attention, differentiating and recognising sounds.
  • It can also be important for children to recognise themselves in the toys they’re playing with. Various toys on the market now have cochlear implants or hearing aids, such as ‘justlikeyoudolls’.
  • You could even make your own additions to toys. Try using a carboard box and cutting out the shape of a cochlear implant. Add a magnet to the card and to the dolls head. Your child can then have a toy with a cochlear implant like them. This could be something you make together with your child. You can have fun decorating it and exploring different textures and colours.