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Playing with cardboard boxes just as valuable for children as days out - MDX expert

New MDX-backed campaign led by Fisher Price Lab and the charity Family Action is promoting low cost activities for parent and child

Children can gain as much educational benefit from playing with a cardboard box and some sticky tape as they would from an expensive day out, according to a Middlesex University child development expert.

Dr Jacqueline Harding is supporting the new Creating Happy Memories campaign – a partnership between Fisher Price and support charity Family Action fronted by actress Gemma Atkinson - which is promoting five low cost activities parents can enjoy at home with their children.

With the summer holidays starting this week, many parents with children might feel pressured to take their young ones on trips to keep them occupied.

“The good news is that what your young child or older children want is social interaction, and that’s free,"  Dr Jacqueline Harding, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies.

But Dr Harding says simple, cost effective ways to play with youngsters at home drive down stress and anxiety levels for both parent and child.

Basic eye contact and attention is what children crave and offers crucial development benefits, she explains, which includes games such as a peek-a-boo to more advanced play.

“Why not start by aiming for just 15 minutes of face-to-face play with your child – and before you know it, you too will be revelling in play with your child for much longer,” said Dr Harding, a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, addressing parents.

“Play is irresistible to the human nervous system, and the untold secret about playing with your child is that you, too, will derive much the same benefits – it’s win-win.”

“The good news is that what your young child or older children want is social interaction, and that’s free.

“So, first of all, don't panic if your child says they’re bored, because children will be their best selves during play. Being bored can spark that imaginative streak and start a new play journey.

“A good way of battling boredom is to set your child a challenge – have a challenge per day, like making a robot out of boxes, having a treasure hunt, maybe something sensory-based like a bit of gardening, or go to the park, or whatever you want.

“Have an itinerary up your sleeve for things to do. Write a letter – remember that feeling of writing a letter as a child, how exciting is that when you are posting a letter at four years old?

“When you're with children, watch their facial expressions and body language – they tell you what they need.”

Dr Harding launched the Tomorrow’s Child TV channel four years ago, which is a free online resource hosted by Middlesex University addressing the digital needs of parents of children aged from birth to 18 years.

As part of the Creating Happy Memories campaign, actress and celebrity mum Gemma Atkinson, and her three-year-old daughter Mia, teamed up with Fisher-Price to highlight some simple ways to engage with your child, including junk modelling and nature play.

Gemma said: “I still remember the games that my parents played with me, and I want Mia to have those memories of us playing together too.

“It’s massively important to play with our children, and the resources that go with this campaign gives lots of lovely inspiration and tips for doing this over the summer, with low-cost activities that are really fun and packed full of learning opportunities for the little ones.”

Lisa Lohiser, Early Childhood Development expert at the Fisher-Price Play Lab, added: “There is no right or wrong way to play – by being present and engaging with your child you can’t go wrong. No matter what kind of play they are engaging in, they are growing.”

To access the Creating Happy Memories play resources, please visit here.

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