I pick up on details or…
the ability to detect changes in the world and the self.
Self-regulation is often thought about in terms of being able to provide a balanced response to the world – not underreacting or overreacting, navigating our own and other emotions, walking the balance between persisting with a goal and remaining open enough to modify those goals when needed – but obviously to do this the child needs the right information on which to base their response. Being able to accurately receive and then interpret perceptions in terms of intensity, meaning, duration and importance is therefore vital. It is a skill that takes time as children differ so greatly in terms of perceptual sensitivity. Calibrating their senses to the world so they can get enough information but not too much is one of the main tasks of early childhood. Imaginative play is a powerful builder of a ‘just right’ sensorium:
· all senses are engaged in reading environment, self and social cues,
· storyline and emotions makes subtly changing sensory cues more salient and
· attention is willingly engaged so sensory channels are kept open for longer.
In fact, this aspect of imaginative play is the one where adults most confidently intervene. Schools set out to provide rich multi-sensory environments and matching vocabulary to grow children’s perceptual sensitivity –natural playgrounds, musical instruments, themed play corners etc. However, in general, a child’s perceptual sensitivity is calibrated before the start of school, and it is developed in play with carers.
Early imaginative play is far more repetitive, and the patterns that these games follow give babies and toddlers the chance to perceive the changes from game to game: last time Mum was a mouse and Dad and I were cats hunting her, we were running, not walking, the sun was brighter, and Mum hid under the cushions on the couch. However, despite these experiences, some children still reach kindergarten with an over or under-responsive sensorium. For these children adult assistance in imaginative group play is still vital for them to cope.