Expert Interview: Play – it’s not just about fun

Jo Jackson King small & widde copy


Expert Interview with Jo Jackson King

My Babybaby is always interested in seeking out experts involved in caring for children and their families. This month we speak with Jo Jackson King, whose training and expertise is in Occupational Therapy.

Jo specialises in supporting families with children and she is passionate about maximising children’s potential through play and interaction. Her latest initiative is called The Imagination Games

Here Jo and her mother Barbara have distilled their many years of knowledge around the importance of children’s play, forming a project which gives play the focus it deserves.

Play, so what?

Through their play children learn many important skills, including how to regulate their emotions, problem solving, thinking in an abstract way, and how ideas and concepts connect to each other.

In fact Jo goes so far as to say that self regulation – the ability to manage and deal with emotions – is the key skill-set for life success. And adults who become involved in their child’s play help them to acquire these skills more rapidly.

Play, Jo says, is the “well spring of imagination” and children need many, many hours of it to consolidate not only their physical skills but their emotional and social skills as well.

Jo also says that there is no doubt that when it comes to growth and development it’s vital for parents to know how their child is going and just how they compare to children of the same age. Developmental milestones are one of many important ways in which maturity and mastery can be gauged.

Needless to say, every child is an individual and there are all sorts of factors which influence development. But one of the most important factors is the quality of the relationship between parents and their child and the degree of sensitive “in-tune” communication which exists between them.

So what exactly can parents do to maximise their chances of having children who are well balanced emotionally and physically?

According to Jo the following are a good start:

  • Foster pretend play. Imagination and practice, time and exposure really are the keys to success.
  •  Look for your child to be “on the way”. Skill mastery is not achieved in a day but what is important is that your child is making steady progress.
  • Maximise your child’s opportunity to be on the floor. This starts even in the newborn period. Babies and toddlers who spend long hours in prams, slings, rockers or even being held in their parent’s arms are not given as much opportunity to learn the skills involved in developing mobility.
  • If your baby is not making eye contact and connecting with you from around 4-6 weeks of age, have them assessed by a healthcare professional.
  • If your baby has an unusual roll when they are on the floor or in their cot, this warrants a check as well. Rolling is a complex process and is dependent on reflexes being present or absent; when babies retain infantile reflexes for longer than they need to this can hold back skill development.
  • •If your baby is a “bottom shuffler” rather than crawls on their hands and knees, then they may need a referral to an occupational therapist. It can be very hard to persuade a bottom shuffler to stop once they start.
  • Look for your baby to rock on all fours when they are developing rolling skills. Again, this skill is dependent on your baby maturing onwards from their more primitive reflexes.
  • Think honestly about how much time you both spend at home. There is a “huge” correlation between hours at home and babies having play and development opportunities centred around floor time.
  • If your baby is a boy, don’t expect him to be at the same stage developmentally as girls of the same age. Boys can be six months behind girls until around the age of 17 years when they generally catch up.
  • Avoid exposing your baby to digital hand held devices, especially when it comes to play. Babies have an inbuilt drive for mastery and control and traditionally this urge has been directed into them developing gross motor skills. For many young children, this energy is now being directed into games and phones which are by their nature, very exciting and malleable, doing just what the child wants. But devices are not human, no matter how interactive they have become.  Socialisation and interaction, communication and relationships are best built through inter-personal relationships, not technology.
  • Most importantly, parents need to spend time talking and playing with their young children and where possible, supporting play which involves simple fun, mess, joy and imagination.

Also check for details of Jo’s excellent book:

How to Raise the Best Possible Child (ABC Books).

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