Forget tech: get children exploring

Children love to explore - but many mums admit it's easier to just hand them a gadget. Lisa Salmon asks a child development expert what exploring in childhood means, and why it's so important

IN AN ideal world, all parents would get their children playing outside and exploring from a very young age.

But while a new survey has revealed that nine out of 10 mothers of young children want them to get closer to nature, eight out of 10 of them admit it's just too easy to give children technology to play with instead.

That's despite the fact that the vast majority of young children would rather get out exploring, and less than a third of mums say their child prefers the computer or watching TV to the great outdoors. The survey asked more than 700 mums of babies and toddlers aged 12 months to three years about the importance of exploring when bringing up children. Nearly all (99 per cent) said it helped improve their child's curiosity, independence, creativity and imagination, as well as their problem-solving ability.

Clinical child psychologist Angharad Rudkin agrees that exploring is vital for children's development. "Exploring is the main way toddlers learn about themselves, others and the world around them," she says. "Exploring means developing independence, playing with different things in a different way, finding out what they can and can't do and developing language to say what they want to do."

Dr Rudkin explains that for young children, exploring means being able to set their own boundaries, and giving them a sense of freedom and adventure. "That could simply mean letting a child do whatever it wants with Play Doh, or crawling around the garden and having a look at whatever they want. "It's about doing something adventurous, something a little bit out of the ordinary and dictated by the child.

It's not exploring if the parent tells them what to do."

Dr Rudkin says she understands how easy it can be for busy parents just to hand even very young children a gadget to keep them quiet, rather than encouraging them to explore.

But she warns: "The number of toddlers I see sitting in their pram with a smartphone in their hand is frightening. "It's a good babysitter and is an easy option, and I'm not saying don't do it. But just be mindful of what you're doing, and be aware of how often your child is playing on a phone or tablet. "Are you using technology to advance your child's vocabulary, for example, or just for a quiet life? "We just don't know yet what impact using technology so often as a young child will have on their language, play ability and concentration. But I wonder whether it will have a detrimental impact?"

Dr Rudkin suggests that parents might sometimes try doing things the old-fashioned way, by giving young children card, crayons or Play Doh to get creative, or encouraging them to build with bricks etc. "There are things that generation after generation of parents have relied on, and they'll still work today," she promises. "Have a few tricks up your sleeve that you can pull out, other than your smartphone. "It's a little bit harder work, and it takes more confidence from a parent, but if you get into the habit, it'll get easier and easier to do."

But busy lives can stand in the way of encouraging budding explorers, with the survey finding that nine out of 10 mums are prevented from helping their child explore because of a lack of time.

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