Having fun for learning's sake
Special report: Exhibition shows that the right kind of play can be good for children's development, writes Chayanit Pongsupradit
Playing might sound easy. Yet this seemingly casual activity can be challenge for novice parents who are clueless on how to play with their children.
Playing is more than playing Peek-A-Boo, throwing and catching a ball with your kids, and far more than buying Lego, Nintendo and Barbie dolls, observers say.
Indeed, playing is perhaps the most important activity for human development. The brain develops at its most rapid rate in a child's first five years of life.
The Faculty of Architecture at Chulalongkorn University has created "Forest of Play", an exhibition which is part of the Design For Society (D4S) campaign.
The exhibition started on July 11 and runs until Sept 25, at Exhibition Hall, Office of Art and Culture Building, Chulalongkorn University.
"Forest of Play is a 'playable' exhibition because children are allowed to play freely with every toy in the exhibition," said Vitool Viraponsavan, CEO of Plantoys, a toy company.
"We want children to actually enjoy playing, and we want parents to learn that playing is not a nonsense activity, it is the process of learning."
Upon entering the Forest of Play exhibition, parents and children are greeted with a variety of wooden toys, all in a minimal design. The creative visuals and friendly staff might already look impressive, but the background of each toy is even more so.
Mr Vitool said the toys are made of non-toxic materials to prevent health impacts on young children.
Young children, he said, have a habit of putting things directly into their mouths.
The exhibition showcases the concepts behind toy design and making.
Apart from making toys safe and fun to play, toy makers must also develop toys to meet development needs in four areas. Playing is believed to stimulate physical, cognitive social and emotional development.
For children under 6 years old, physical development is important, especially their fine motor skills, which correlates with their brain development.
In the exhibition, many toys are defined as "Fine Motor Play". These toys require children to use their hands to move, push, and pull things.
"By playing like this, children are not only acquiring fine motor skills, but also developing their sense of direction through using their eyes along with their hands," he said.
In the science of child development, children will start developing cognitive skills at the age of 3, so toy makers must create fun-filled items to keep children at play. Losing attention and motivation means a delay of cognitive skill development as well.
To keep young children hooked, Forest of Play offers children toys like "Early Math Play" and "Memory Game", which allow children to learn maths and classifying objects by using actual experience instead sitting in a conventional classroom.
Children learn by conducting experiments with the toys and seeing the results for themselves, which is more fun and effective.
In Forest of Play, there is no limitation to the imagination. Children are allowed to express their creativity through playing "Creative Play" and "Imaginative Play".
They are encouraged to actually play freely without anyone telling them what's right or wrong.
Aside from encouraging children to play, another purpose of Forest of Play is to tighten the relationship between parents and children. "No matter how well-designed the toys are, the best kind of play for children is one where their parents play with them," said Nilobon Kijkralas, Senior Brand & Marketing Communication Manager of PlanToys.
"Children's relationships with their parents can affect all areas of their development."
The exhibition gets good feedback from those who take part. "I'm satisfied with Forest of Play. In Thailand, we rarely have a chance to visit an exhibition that is aimed specifically at young children like this one. The toys are not typical of what you find in playgrounds. My children and I had a really good time," said Kantapak Tanwongwan, a mother of two.
Ms Kantapak said she wants to encourage other parents to bring their children to visit the exhibition, especially new rookie parents, so they can learn to play with their children.
Some new parents may not understand child behaviour. Unlike adults, young kids love to do the same thing repetitively which is good for their development. Yet, doing the same thing over and over might be boring for adults taking part in their games.
Ms Kantapak said parents need tutoring and understanding about the science of play.
"I understand the struggles of being a new mum. Sometimes you don't know how to play with your children, so you just let them watch TV or play on a tablet since it calms them down, but that's wrong," said Ms Kantapak.
"Spend time with your children. Play with them, teach them, improve them. It won't waste a lot of your time. Your young children will grow up quickly, and what you give them now will have a big impact on their lives in the future."