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Experts urge children to play more

Moffat Makomo, occupational therapist in Child and Adolescent Services at Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute (Photograph supplied)

Children miss out on learning basic skills because the benefit of play is undervalued, child development experts said yesterday.

And a lack of risk and more time spent on computers and tablets means young children are not able to develop basic physical and mental abilities, according to Jill Davidson and Moffat Makomo.

Ms Davidson, who owns private OT company Function Junction, said: “Play is so important; that’s where they learn everything; that’s where they learn to play with their friends, where they develop their gross and fine motor skills, how they use their hands and how their eyes and their hands work together. We kind of forget about it and we don’t give enough emphasis to it as we should.”

She added: “We also don’t allow our kids to have enough risk in their play. There is a difference between danger and risk.

“No, I am not going to let my child play on the edge of a cliff where they could potentially fall over and die.

“However, I will let them climb up a structure that is a little bit off the ground, or let them spin on something that is going to give them some more input, because our kids need risk.

“They need to know what their bodies can and can’t do. They need to try things and they need to learn to persevere.”

Ms Davidson was speaking as the island prepared to mark World Occupational Therapy Day today.

She said: “OT is all about function. People are always confused by the name — what is a child’s occupation? A child’s occupation is play. That’s the big one.”

Ms Davidson works predominantly with children in private schools who are struggling to reach their potential in the classroom and handwriting concerns are the main reason for referrals.

But she works to support children with a variety of difficulties, including autism.

To help support the children at home, she also works with parents, which can involve teaching them how to play again.

Ms Davidson said some parents forget how important board games are, “or that their child needs rough and tumble play because that helps them figure out how their sensory systems are working”.

Fellow professional Moffat Makomo works in child and adolescent services at the Mid- Atlantic Wellness Institute helping children with mental health problems.

He said: “This ranges from children with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, autism, depression, anxiety, or any other challenges that hinder their functional performance.

“My role is trying to find activities or strategies which might be sensory based that would help the child function better in the classroom, be able to tolerate the school day and perform, be able to write legibly and also build on their self-esteem, as well as also work on their social skills.”

Mr Makomo said every child was unique, but that most responded well to the treatment.

He added: “I think parents see the benefit but, sometimes, as we say, life happens. The child needs to be their self-advocate in terms of reminding parents of what they need to do.”

He said parents could fall into the “technology trap” and give their children a tablet to keep them quiet.

But Mr Makomo warned that high-tech gadgets can affect progress in therapy and also increase the number of children who need the service because technology was “mainly touch and visual and there is less interaction”.

He said: “The less you are exploring out there by touching things, smelling things, interacting with the environment, the less opportunities there are for you to learn.

“Children climb less these days. Co-ordination and motor planning required for them to even do that activity is missing.”

Mr Makomo recommended that parents spend time doing activities with their children that can help with co-ordination or muscle development like bike riding, swimming, karate, judo and team sports.

He added: “Hopefully, by them engaging in those activities, it means there’s less time on those electronics.”