You: the ultimate toy
Playing together builds life-long skills
Balls are a blast, Lego is lovely
and screens seem to be everywhere.
But no toy, game, or virtual pastime
is more fascinating and beneficial to
a child than playing and interacting
with parents and caregivers.
Play often includes serve and
return exchanges (See Serve and
Return on page 17.), which are key
to brain development. Jane Hewes
likens serve and return exchanges
to a game of tennis or volleyball.
The child begins with a gesture or
sound—the “serve”—and the parent
responds with the “return.”
“Infants invite us into a play
relationship that is incredibly
rewarding,” Hewes, the Early
Learning and Child Care Chair
at Grant MacEwan University in
Edmonton, says. She adds that many
parents and caregivers make games
as simple as blowing raspberries with
children, or playing Peek–a–Boo as
part of their everyday routines.
“Make sure your play has no
goals,” says Hewes. What you
play and what you play with are
secondary to just being together.
These serve and return exchanges are
also fun and shape a child’s future
mental and physical health. They
can’t be replicated on a screen.
North American pediatricians
agree that watching television has
little value for children younger than
two years old and that television
is not a replacement for serve and
“Interacting with people promotes
social development,” says David
Bickham, staff scientist at the Center
on Media and Child Health at Boston
Children’s Hospital and a pediatrics
instructor at Harvard Medical School.
“TV doesn’t respond to the child.
It’s not like a parent making noise
and facial expressions that the child
can mirror back. The child can see
that’s how a face works and this kind
of social play becomes part of the
development of being skilled at social
Toys and equipment also have a
place, and Bickham says the best ones
are those that let you and your child
make up stories as you play together.
Toys from popular television shows
or movies already have a storyline
and that thwarts the creative
potential of play.
Dinnertime is also a time to be
“If you are cooking dinner, the
child can sit in a supported chair,
watching,” he says. “That way you
and the child can engage with each
— Anne Georg
For more about playing with infants,
babies, toddlers, preschoolers and new
schoolers, visit myhealth.alberta.ca
Being face-to-face with adults helps kids to develop strong relationships and social skills.