Our childhoods may have been spent in the backyard building a cubby house, acting out characters from our favourite book or movie or kicking a ball around with our neighbours but our children have somewhat lost the art of play with the advent of modern technology consuming the minds and fingers of a generation.

The education and care sector has recognised the value of providing hands-on, open-ended play experiences in centres and schools to enhance children’s learning and development.

Now the toy industry is acknowledging the importance of supporting children to play.

Toymakers are increasingly designing or re-releasing toys that engage children with the lost art of play. These low or no technology, multi-functional toys provide more freedom and flexibility to allow children to not only play but, more importantly, choose how they play.

“Personalisation and open-ended play are definitely the buzz words of 2014,” Toy Industry Association trend expert Adrienne Appell says.

“Whether kids are building with classic blocks, designing their own dolls, playing in virtual worlds, or ‘mashing up’ play patterns, toymakers are giving them more freedom than ever to play exactly how they want.”

US based educator and advocate for toys as tools for learning Steyanne Auerbach says children learn best through the process of play. Mrs Auerbach says when children are engaged by a toy they are developing communication skills, eye-hand coordination, understanding and relating with other people. She said when they play games, they’re learning to share, take turns and make discoveries.

Play increases a child’s confidence, self-esteem, social skills and creates a sense of belonging that grows and develops into the adolescent years and beyond. Play equips children with the skills to make good judgements, build positive relationships, stimulates creativity and enhances their sense of wellbeing.

Removing structured activities and purpose-built games at home allows children to learn and develop, using their own imagination and discoveries, through play.

Play experiences to try at home:

Playing with your child creates a unique bond that will last a lifetime. Playing together as a family fosters cohesion, cooperation, support and communication within the family unit that can be developed and sustained throughout the stages of a child’s life.

  • Constructive play: Use blocks, play-doh, sand,  connectors, planks to build towers, cities, roads, castles, animals or people
  • Active Play: build an obstacle course, jump rope, play with a ball, use a playground, ride bikes, skateboards or scooters, play tag, capture the flag or hide’n’go seek
  • Dramatic/Imaginative/Role play. Become chefs and cook in the pretend kitchen and serve in the restaurant, imitate mum put baby in a stroller or “shopping cart” and go shopping, be a farmer, zoo keeper or vet heard and care for animals or bring animals to life, now you’re a super hero dress up and (safely) act out the part, have a teddy bear picnic or tea party, build a cubby house or fort, put on a play, dance or concert or get together with the family and play charades
  • Artistic/creative play: provide your child with a variety of art and craft supplies such as markers and crayons, paint, scraps of fabric or paper, empty boxes or containers, glue, buttons and stickers and watch the inner Picasso emerge
  • Sensory play: Play water games, climb into a sand pit, get your hands dirty with play dough, or clay, use mirrors, collect natural materials sand, rocks, wood and create an activity tray.
  • Exploratory, scientific or discovery-based play: Dig out the puzzles, chess board, packet of cards or board games, go on a treasure hunt or hold your own amazing race.