Early Years Development and Learning Through Intentional Play
“The experiences we engage in during our early years of life introduce, develop and refine skills that our brains and bodies will need to access throughout our lives.”
In the book ‘101 Games and Activities for children with Autism, Asperger’s and Sensory Processing Disorders’ (2000) Tara Delaney details an array of engaging activities to involve our young children in. Engaging children in intentional learning throughout their early years is absolutely vital to the future developments of a child - whether in regards to self esteem, cognitive skills, neurological or holistic development, educational experiences during the early years can be considered the bedrock of the shape a child’s life will take. Because a child’s brain is in a constant state of gathering, storing and retrieving information while developing, this period of their life is the optimal time for learning.
Although these games are designed for children with learning and sensory processing disorders, it is clear that they have the capability to significantly support children of all learning levels. Delaney states that there are three main goals of the games she explores throughout the book, each designed to be accomplished simultaneously, “first is to reference and develop sensory systems, second is to introduce learning concepts, and third is to infuse language into all aspects of a child's life.”
To illustrate to parents and educators how important our early experiences are, for future academic and social success, Delaney creates the useful metaphor of ‘The Brain Library’ - the books within it are metaphors for experiences. “In early years,” she states, “the majority of our experiences are sensori-motor. These experiences write books that build the foundation of our Brain Library.”
It is then divided into three sections; the foundation section, the integrated skills section and the capabilities section.
The foundation section houses our basic senses, which include vestibular (balance and motion) proprioceptive (body position) tactile, visual, auditory, gustatory (taste) and olfactory (smell)
The Integrated skills section allows us to interact and thrive as beings. It encompasses praxis (ability to plan movement), daily living skills, behavior and communication.
The capabilities section embodies social intelligence and cognitive intelligence - skills that are considered vital to thrive in the modern world.
In the book, the author describes that many children with neurological difficulties process information in a way that prevents them from readily seeking out experiences that lead to discovery and exploration about themselves and the world around them - which by extension are the building blocks of their development.
It is therefore put forward that educators, parents and guardians must set up a physical world, through these games and activities in a way that entices engagement and experiences ‘that will write and store books in children's Brain Libraries for their future success.’
Here are some tips suggested by Delaney to keep in mind as we navigate our children and students through this intentional play…
1. Patience is Key
2. If a child has difficulty understanding a game or has sensory fears that are preventing him/ her from completely engaging, it is important to adapt the game to alleviate fears and increase engagement