Are Virtual Play Mats better than Soft Play Mats?
Virtual Play Mats
Imaginative play is something all parents encourage their children to enjoy and play mats are a common feature in many homes. Whilst they have many benefits, there are some drawbacks to the traditional mat that unrolls across the floor.
At Fundamentally Children, we were intrigued by the concept of a virtual play mat, such as the CotBot City App. A novel idea and an app both our experts and little testers loved but are virtual play mats as good as their real life counterparts? Do they have any advantages over traditional play mats?
Play Mat Benefits and Drawbacks
The benefits to using a play mat as a base for imaginative play are many as they:
- Promote Social and Creative Development – Children can use their imagination, think up new ideas and learn the joy of sharing with siblings or friends.
- Encourage Communication – Both talking and listening to others as the storyline develops.
- Tune Physical Skills – Fine motor skills are practised.
But there are some drawbacks too:
- Cost – The play mat itself is usually just the start, with buildings and accessories such as vehicles and figures to purchase as well.
- Space – It can end up taking over the room and as their imagination grows, so does the number of accessories. Even packed away, these take up a fair amount of space.
- Time – Getting out the play mat and packing away again at the end of play takes time which, for many families, can be in short supply.
- Fixed layout – The layout of the play mat is fixed. Whilst you can add accessories many children find it frustrating that they can’t move the buildings around – it always looks the same.
What Does a Virtual Play Mat Offer?
Taking CotBot City App as an example we have seen how much our little testers loved playing it but also how they learn from playing without the somewhat disheartening win/lose result many apps offer:
Choices and flexibility – Children get to choose their setting and make new combinations each time they play. Unlike a real play mat you can choose from a range of buildings / features (from a fire station and rubbish dump to a loop the loop) and change their location on the mat.
When we watched children play CotBot City we noticed that for some children designing and building the town the way they want it to look is the highlight of the game! They also get to choose between different vehicles such as the ice-cream van or fire engine and become that vehicle while they play with it. This opens up new ways to use their imagination as the different settings and vehicles present new challenges.
Encouraging Explore and Curiosity – The EYFS curriculum for young children encourages them to “have a go” and exploration is a key theme. Taking control of a vehicle and having the freedom to explore the city how they want is a chance to do this. Part of this approach in CotBot City is to make failure fun – so important with young children who are quickly demotivated by failure whereas ‘fun’ failure actively encourages their curiosity.
For example, if you drop the rubbish on the man at the recycling plant he gets annoyed and shakes his fist – something the children found endlessly hilarious! Such a lovely way to let children explore their cheeky side in a controlled environment and interactivity that simply isn’t possible in a real play mat.
Opportunities to Learn – Players can learn about real life (supporting EYFS goals for Understanding the World) by telling their story, be it collecting waste and sorting the recycling correctly or matching up the bus tickets to the correct customer.
The mini games provide an opportunity to practis logic and decision making. They are also really fun – children loved cleaning their vehicle, sorting the rubbish, putting out the fires etc.
Fine motor skills – Whilst not the same as handling a real toy car, steering your chosen vehicle by tilting the device is a great feature and ensures pre-schoolers are still practicing fine motor skills while they play.
Whilst we would never want virtual play mats to replace real life alternatives, CotBot City would certainly make a great choice for an app for children aged 3 – 6 years old. Whilst the on-screen alternative cannot offer quite the same free imaginative play experience of physical play mats, they certainly do have developmental benefits and still do inspire a child’s imagination.
Whether they are handling a toy fire engine or a virtual one it seems children quickly enter a world bounded only by their imagination. CotBot City certainly kept our little testers entertained and keen to come back for more!
Sponsored Article: This article may contain links to internal / external content related to our sponsor. All opinions are our own and all products mentioned have been approved by Fundamentally Children through strict, independent testing processes.
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Tags: apps for toddlers, Children's Apps, imaginative play, play mats, skills development, tablets, virtual play
This post was written by Fundamentally Children