Play and Brain Development

Is TSK (That Special Kid) “on the job”?  If he or she seems to be playing a lot, then YES! canstockphoto12096696Playing is TSK’s job, and we hope he/she makes a great career of it, during these first few years!

Thinking is a complicated process, and involves lots of brain areas.  Some brain areas can’t think as hard or as fast until TSK gets older, but, YOU, the parent can help that brain by the way you play with TSK.

The science behind Playing and Brain Development:

Input: Information gets into the brain by the senses: vision, hearing, and touch.

Processing: The information goes all over the brain to processing centers to be understood and combined with emotions and other memories.

Output: The actions, words and thoughts that TSK has developed from the experience.  These are generally divided into the following:

Muscle Activities – The “doing stuff” (Gross Motor- the big muscles, and Fine Motor – the fingers and hands)

Language – “The talking things”

Emotional-Social – “The feeling and behavior parts”

Don’t try to play if TSK is tired, hungry, sick, wet, or dirty. Your first job is to take care of TSK’s bodily needs; then play time is more fun! Play with TSK when he/she is ready. You may only be able to play for a short time, depending on the attention span.

A child’s attention span is 1 minute per year, and most children can’t focus much more than that.  Pick play activities to use for a short time like this, and when TSK acts tired, or turns away, stop and wait a while, then try again. Usually you will be able to play several times a day, often 10 or more times in a day!  For infants, who have short attention spans, you may be able to do something 10 times an hour!

How to Play with TSK

At each age, you will play differently with TSK. See if you can understand the Input-Processing-Output Cycle for the activities you choose!  Here is an example:

  • Input-You make eye contact with TSK
  • Processing –TSK receives your gaze and the little brain starts sending the images of your beautiful eyes and warm smile and your happy loving voice to all different parts of his/her brain
  • Output – TSK may blink the eyes, or wiggle just a little bit, if he/she is a newborn, but by 4 months of age, TSK will wiggle all extremities and give you a BIG grin and make you laugh and want to hug him/her!

Stages of Play

Many authorities have tried to understand play, and here is one common theory.  Watch your TSK and see if you can see how he/she goes through the different levels!

Parten’s Stages of Play theory  – there are 6 stages.  Most children can do these different stages as their brain develops with more memory and when the “thinking” part of the brain controls the “emotion” part of the brain.

1)    Unoccupied Play – when the TSK isn’t playing but is watching others, at a distance and isn’t really too interested.

2)    Solitary (Independent) Play – when TSK is alone and is focused on his/her own toy or activity…other kids may be around, but TSK isn’t at all interested in them.  This is seen in younger children.

3)    Onlooker Play – when TSK watches others at play but doesn’t go to play.  However, TSK is really interested and so may go to Mom or Dad or try to talk/babble about something that seems related to the others playing.  It is thought that TSK may feel shy or uncertain at this point.

4)    Parallel Play (adjacent play with social co-action) – when TSK plays separately from others but is close to them, and actually copies what they are doing.  This type of play is one step from the Onlooker Play going to the next step of Associative Play.

5)    Associative Play – when TSK is interested in those close by who are playing, but isn’t really interested in WHAT they are doing.  There may be communication and everyone is doing separate things, but there is talking or communication. The activities of each child are not coordinated.  This is the common form of play in the pre-school setting, with kids going back and forth between the Onlooker and the Parallel Play areas

6)    Cooperative Play – when TSK is interested in both the kids who are playing AND in the activities.  Then TSK joins in and everyone is working for a common goal.  Most kids can’t do this well until school age.