4 Simple activities that aid toddler development

Posted on 5 March 2019

Four key areas of early childhood development, and the simple activities that will keep your toddler on track.

Broadly speaking, there are four main areas of early childhood development that parents need to keep an eye on:

  • fine motor skills
  • gross motor skills
  • social skills
  • intellectual/cognitive development

If your child can move their body, manipulate smaller objects, interact well with other children and stimulate their brain, you’ve got the basics covered.

Dr Henriette Saunders is a developmental paediatrician at Mediclinic Paarl in the Western Cape. Here she shares her recommendations for activities that will help with your child’s development in these four key areas.

Gross motor skills

These are the physical skills that require whole-body movement, and which involve the body’s larger muscles. This includes walking, standing, sitting upright and clambering around. “The activities that can help with developing these skills are fairly obvious,” says Dr Saunders. “Playing outside, running, jumping, climbing, exploring….” Gross motor skills also include hand-eye co-ordination, so be sure to give your toddler a ball to pick up, throw or kick around.

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Fine motor skills

From the day they’re born, babies use their hands to explore their environment and their own bodies. Fine motor skills develop alongside gross motor skills and cognitive skills, but there are a few things you can do to help. “To develop fine motor skills, toddlers should be playing in the sand or with playdough, and generally getting their hands dirty,” says Dr Saunders.

Social skills

Dr Saunders doesn’t recommend any particular age for playdates. “But parents should be aware of the child’s social abilities at specific ages, and facilitate play dates accordingly,” she says. “For instance, until they’re about three years old, children do more parallel play and need help with sharing and taking turns.” Parallel play – where kids play next to each other without influencing or interfering with each other’s behaviour – is perfectly normal, even if it seems like your child isn’t playing “with” their friend!

Cognitive development

As a switched-on modern parent, you may be tempted to get your child the latest educational apps for their personal mobile device. You’re probably better off just letting them play in the garden. “Children should be allowed to play outside as much as possible, as long as they are supervised and safe,” says Dr Saunders. “They should also wear hats and sunscreen, and stay out of the sun between 11 am and 3 pm during the summer. There is no need for young children to have any screen time, be that TV, phone or computers.

“Children and parents should be encouraged to make use of their natural environment to facilitate development,” Dr Saunders concludes. “This does not necessarily have to entail following a specific programme or spending a lot of money. Watch, wait and wonder. Observe what your child is doing, and join them in play!”

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In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.