kids

4 creative ways to encourage your child’s development.

Lego Duplo
Thanks to our brand partner, Lego Duplo

There are two things that people instantly notice about my toddler daughter, Emmy. The first is that she has an incredibly active imagination. The second is her fine motor skills. Just yesterday, Emmy unscrewed a pen and put it back together. She’s only two. Yes, I was completely freaked out and considered hiding all of our pens until she’s 21, in case she swallows any of the parts. But hey, it’s also kind of clever!

It’s a combination of nature and nurture that have made her this way. She’s the daughter of a writer/comedian (her dad) and an artist/actress/writer (me), so it’s no surprise that she’s imaginative and artistic.

As for the nurture side of things, here are a few tips that have helped Emmy to develop into a curious, innovative and inspired creature. I can’t wait to see what she creates in the future.

1. Give your child the bricks, not the castle.

It’s tempting for me to just buy Emmy colourful, ready-made toys, like bright plastic doll’s houses. But to truly encourage her creative skills, I love to give her the materials, rather than the finished product. I’d rather give her a blank piece of paper, instead of a colouring-in book, so that she can develop her own drawing and colouring skills, without restrictions.

This is why I would prefer to give Emmy Lego Duplo over an intricate and expensive princess castle, any day. With her Duplo building bricks, Emmy is free to create a horse’s stable or an architectural masterpiece (here’s hoping). And the adorable characters, animals and transport pieces that come with Duplo only encourage her creativity and learning even more.

"To truly encourage her creative skills, I love to give her the materials". Image via iStock.

2. Allow your child to be messy, and develop an appreciation of texture.

Pamela Druckerman, author of French Children Don’t Throw Food, says baking, “Teaches kids how to control themselves. With its orderly measuring and sequencing of ingredients, baking is a perfect lesson in patience.”

From when Emmy was only a few months old, she’s helped me bake biscuits and cakes. At six months old, she was digging her chubby hands into flour, rummaging through containers of oats, and experiencing sticky golden syrup – otherwise known as “baking ANZAC biscuits”. Yes, it’s messy, but ultimately, I’m introducing a playful element into the experience of cooking. She’s learning about textures and patience through play.

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Another excellent tool for introducing your kids to texture and learning through playful experiment is Duplo. Not only does Duplo have a fascinating array of textures, from the smooth sides of the bricks to the raised bumps on top, the practice of building something, brick-by-brick, mimics the creation of a baked treat using singular ingredients. She can learn through playing with the sequencing of bricks to create an imaginative end product, much like sequencing of ingredients for our ANZAC biscuits.

Our play room is usually scattered with colourful Duplo bricks all over the floor, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I know that Emmy can start building something whenever she wants.

"I’m introducing a playful element into the experience of cooking". Image via iStock.

3. Be patient, and allow your child to figure it out for themselves.

When it comes to play time, there are two types of parents. There’s the parent who will sit right next to their kid and bossily explain how to use the toys, and then end up obsessively playing with the toy themselves (as their kid becomes bored). Then, there’s the parent who sits back, and waits to see what their child will do with the toy.

I’m usually the latter type of parent, as I prefer Emmy to work out the purpose and mechanisms of the object. And if she gets the purpose “wrong”, well, she’s actually discovered a new purpose for the toy.

For a long time, Emmy and I would just sit quietly with each other and build things from our Duplo bricks, with her just freely touching and exploring the bricks. Then one day, she figured out how to make a tower all by herself. She built it to be taller than her own body. She was extremely proud, and I don’t think she would have had the same satisfaction if I’d shown her how to do it, or done it for her.

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Be patient, and allow your child to figure it out for themselves. Image: iStock.

4. Go with the creative flow.

Through encouraging Emmy to build, create and experience textures, she sometimes comes up with very strange games and inventions. As a parent, my instinct is often to say, “No, not like THAT – like this!” But according to Dr Christopher Green, author of Toddler Taming, this kind of free-form play is essential to a child’s learning and development.

“Toddlers spend much of their day at play and this is by no means wasted time,” he explains in Toddler Taming. “Some parents think that children should be learning instead of playing; however they are one and the same.”

While we were baking the other day, Emmy decided that a small knob of butter was her “pet”. I could have corrected her and said that a “pet” could only be an animal. But why shouldn’t I allow her to briefly pretend and play with the butter? To me, it demonstrated her loving and generous nature, as well as the obvious fact that she really, really wants a pet cat.

I’ve seen her pretend that her Duplo bricks are a brother and sister who have to visit the doctor, or a mother and child who are off to the library. I love watching the stories she creates.

That’s the great thing about Duplo – it’s never just a building brick. It’s whatever your child wants it to be, and if you allow them to flex their creative muscles, then a box of Duplo can be a whole new universe.

Carla GS is a writer, artist and actress. She is also a qualified art teacher, and has taught Visual Arts to years 5 - 12, and Photography and Digital Media to years 9 - 10.

What do you think are the most important tools for child development?