This is the first activity of any child. Any material, any object, any situation is explored by the senses as he tries to come to terms with what surrounds him. He has to see, touch, smell, hear, sometimes taste any object many times and from many different viewpoints before he has an unassailable knowledge or ‘concept’ of it. During this stage anything is grist to his mill as he amasses information, learns to categorize it and make judgements. Obviously some toys are useful as they present colour, size, weight, texture and shape in various combinations. Raw materials or natural materials such as sand, water, clay, dough, paint, wood, earth are also important but since it is not always safe or sensible to let a child loose with unlimited quantities of these we organize the sand, the water or whatever in manageable amounts and forms and call this aactivity. What is ‘naughty’ (usually some activity which is undesirable from an adult’s point of view) and what is not has to be learned since it is the same urge which leads a child to dabble with the water in a drain as to , in a beautiful water-trough with impeccable equipment. Consistent handling of such situations, allied to finding him something better and more interesting to do, while taking care not to add guilt to his frustration (’ That is not a good/ sensible thing to do because …’ rather than ‘You are naughty and there will be trouble if you do it again’) should help. In fact one can usually tell if a child is deliberately doing something he knows he should not do. They have that little half smile, even an audible giggle, an air of suppressed excitement or the furtive look and unaccustomed quietness that puts any mother on the
Natural materials such as sand impose their own discipline. Dry sand behaves differently from wet sand and if it is to be moulded successfully it must be damped; if too much water is added it becomes different again. If water is poured too fast it splashes over; if too much paint is put on a brush it will dribble. All these lessons have to be learned and development of skills is inextricably interwoven with this. The child who knows about water splashing tries very hard to control the flow of water from a beaker and the more he tries the better he becomes at doing it.
Manipulative skill and coordination develop naturally and loosely follow the same pattern in most children but not unless there is motivation and certainly not without practice. The kind of play which leads to this follows on from exploring, when a child tries to manipulate and have some control over the materials he has explored. He wants to handle them, control them and will learn to use tools to achieve this end. Manageable toys such as bricks and blocks, construction sets, beads and jigsaws fall into this category. The first important tool is undoubtedly a spoon but this is quickly followed by a spade, a wooden mallet, a paint brush and chalk and eventually by hammers, screwdrivers, scissors, spanners, smaller brushes and crayons.