What Is Balanced Play?
There are endless forms of play that our kids engage in, each form teaching them different skills and exercising various parts of their bodies and minds. This variety of activities is known as “balanced play.” It allows kids to improve different aspects of their cognitive and motor skills, which are then generalized to help them navigate the complex world around them.
Our OT team put together some examples of common types of play so that you can encourage your child to engage in them if they aren’t already.
1. Climbing & Obstacle Courses
These are both great ways to practice gross motor skills and target motor planning. Children need to figure out how to coordinate their muscles to move together so that they can climb from point A to point B or maneuver around obstacles. Having your kids create the obstacle course themselves adds a layer of complexity to the activity!
2. Tactile Exploration
Kids are constantly surrounded by objects to touch and feel. Their skin receptors get exposure to a variety of textures, which teaches their brains how to process each sensation. Sensory mats are an easy way for your child to examine textures wherever they are. Depending on their age and skill level you can also try baking together. Let your kids use their hands to mix the ingredients for cookies, enabling them to feel the sensation of each ingredient as they mix.
3. Crafts & Construction
Visual perceptual and visual motor skills play a big role in the ability to build something based on a model or even from scratch. Pull out your art supplies and blocks to encourage your child to create a picture or tower. See how many combinations they can construct with Interlox, a product that can also help develop fine motor skills as kids fit the pieces together.
4. Social-Emotional Play
Strong social-emotional skills are crucial for kids to be able to explore and manage their thoughts and feelings. They also play a huge role in how they relate to others. Sometimes using a tool like Emotion Balls can make children more comfortable with discussing their feelings. Play catch and take turns describing a time you felt like the emotion on the ball. Give your child space to talk about their experience indirectly; over time it will become easier for them to share.
5. Pretend Play
Role-playing games are a fantastic way for kids to be creative and gain a deeper understanding of events. Use costumes to come up with fun storylines, or have your child act out a scenario from their own lives. By taking on a new identity in a space with no right or wrong answers, kids have the chance to engage in creative problem-solving. It also allows them to see things from a different perspective, developing empathy and improving social-emotional skills!
Putting It All Together
Now that you have an understanding of various types of play and the benefits of each, it’s time to put them into practice. You can create zones in your home or playroom with different types of activities so that your kids know where to find things. For those who do best with a schedule, carve out blocks of time to engage in one type of play or another. Remember to keep it flexible and let your kids lead. The goal is to encourage your child to explore all the types of play, but don’t be concerned if they go through phases of focusing on only one or two. This is normal and allows them to really hone their skills in that area