updated 7 Nov 2012, 08:01
Login password
Fri, Jul 06, 2012
Young Parents
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
More than child’s play
by Ho Yun Kuan


Dr Richard C. Woolfson is a British child psychologist who writes the Age by Stage column in Young Parents.

Rupal Arora is the head of school at Odyssey - The Global Preschool.

Chitra Venkatesh is a programme specialist at Odyssey - The Global Preschool.

Tan Meng Wei is the owner of Star Learners Group, which runs seven childcare centres.

Pieces of paper, boxes and toilet rolls are just as userful as educational toys.


Chitra Instructive toys can sometimes be limiting because they come with rules and instructions. Everyday materials like papers, pencils, boxes and toilet rolls can be used in new and unexpected ways because there are no rules limiting their use. Plus, adults are more open to the idea of these materials being cut, pounded, squashed and generally demolished.

This gives children a lot of freedom and room to make mistakes. Toilet rolls can become a simple pair of binoculars. A piece of paper can become the start of a detailed journal with scribbles, drawings and words. A long piece of wood can be a horse. The possibilities are limited only by imagination.

It's okay if my tot prefers to play alone.


Meng Wei Children who are two or three are naturally selfish and don't want to play with others. Many parents say they send their two-year-olds to school for socialisation, but nothing can be further from the truth. As children grow older, they will want to have friends.

Chitra Anyone who can spark off an interaction is a playmate. It could be a parent or teacher. If your child is mostly playing alone, it can be limiting. Playmates enrich the experience, and bring different and conflicting ideas that need to be negotiated. This exercises skills, from IQ to EQ.

Girls should play with dolls and boys with cars.


Chitra All children need to engage in pretend-play and use their imagination. In order to do that, we have to provide a good mix of toys, including dress-up costumes, dolls, toy cars and trucks. To a child, it's all the same. A toy is a toy, whether it's a doll or a truck. A costume is a costume, and it's fun to play dress-up.

Parents should not try to impose gender roles on children. Eventually, your child has to grow up and function in a world where gender roles are becoming blurred. This is the age of stay-at-home dads and mums who work as police officers.

Dr Woolfson There's no evidence that opposite-gender play in childhood affects a child's identity as he grows up. Anyway, the more you tell a child not to play with something, the more he will want to.

My child is playing in a random manner.


Dr Woolfson Play is serious business as far as your child is concerned. He learns about the world, grasps new concepts, improves his coordination, and even picks up language and social skills through play. It's never a waste of time because he's always learning something.

Rupal As long as he's enjoying the activity, engaging with objects and materials or using his imagination, his play is purposeful.

Who needs toys when my kid can play with the latest gadgets instead?


Meng Wei Electronic gadgets like the iPad and PSP over-stimulate children with fast-moving images, bright colours and loud sound effects. When the child is too used to these features in toys, he won't be able to focus well on, say, reading a book.

It's no coincidence that with the advent of TV and computers, the rate of children with attention deficit disorders has been on the rise.

Rupal Children under the age of three years should be kept away from these gadgets. For older ones, they should not be playing with these for more than 20 to 30 minutes each time.

Chitra The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends limiting "screen time" (which includes TV and computers) to two hours of quality programmes a day for preschoolers.

The adage "everything in moderation" holds true. All gadgets should be used under adult supervision, so that the content and duration of use can be monitored. Don't let them play with gadgets right before bedtime. Studies have shown that it affects sleep patterns.

My child abuses his toys; I should teach him to play in the right way.


Chitra If your child is under three years old, it's quite natural for him to throw or chew on toys. Children in this age group learn and experiment with their senses - they may be chewing them to learn their textures and shapes. They throw toys to observe how it bounces whenever it's thrown, or even how you react every time it's thrown.

They enjoy it when they are able to elicit a reaction from objects or people around them - this is a natural process of experimentation and learning. But if your child is older, you need to talk to him and find out why he's chewing on a toy or throwing it.

Even school-going children need time to play.


Meng Wei Parents should teach their child how to balance doing homework with setting aside time for play (outdoors, preferably). It really is quite pointless to make your child spend all his time on schoolwork; he'll start dreading it and stop focusing.

Rupal As the child grows older, play progresses from exploratory to socio-dramatic to games with rules. The type of play changes, but a child is never too old to play. For school-going children, sports, board games, Lego and robotics are great for their development.

Ten minutes of outdoor play per day is enough.


Chitra Children need long stretches of time to build relationships with other kids, to experiment with and use new equipment, and to learn and use the rules to a new game.

For those who are always ready to burst outdoors and get involved in play immediately, 30 minutes may seem sufficient. But these kids need time to use up that burst of energy and slow down, before they can learn to use social skills during play effectively.

On the other hand, some may need 30 minutes to first observe others and get ready to play. So parents need to know their child. If it looks like she may do well with more time outdoors - and you can provide that - then do so. There is never too much outdoor time!

My kid isn't interested in the new toy I bought. What a waste of money.


Meng Wei Kids build their interests at different stages and timing. Your child might take the toy out and play when he's ready, or when he's able to associate it with something familiar at school or his peers.

Chitra If your child is not interested in the toy you bought, perhaps you need to get to know his likes and dislikes better. If he's old enough to be part of the decision-making process, tell him how much you're willing to pay for a toy, and discuss what are the necessary elements in a good toy. Then go shopping together.


Get a copy of the June 2012 issue of Young Parents. Young parents, published by SPH Magazines, is available at all newsstands now.

Check out more stories at Young Parents online,

readers' comments

Copyright © 2012 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.