Children learn so much through play. They learn:
- problem solving
- strength and coordination
While piano lessons, soccer games and helping around the house are important, unstructured play is so beneficial for children. Play enables children to become inquisitive learners and well-rounded individuals. Through play children explore the world around, trying out new ideas and learn to feel comfortable in a variety of situations. There are many types of play; solitary, parallel, cooperative, self-directed or free play. Children need lots of time to follow their own ideas, to do things in their own way, to role play as someone else. Adults can encourage play by:
- Allowing ample time – Babies need to touch for textures, chew and taste, drop things to hear how it lands, and explore. Toddlers need to experiment with finger paint and feel it squishing between their fingers, stacking nesting cups. As children get older they will play the same themes for days never tiring of it. Their interests will be varied and all consuming, which takes time.
- Keep it active – children get the most out of play that they are actively involved with do or making or constructing. Toys that only do one thing loose their novelty quickly, like a battery run train or a doll that cries.
- Create a play area – when children can find the toys they are looking for and have a place to store their toys so they aren’t broken, they are happier and so are you.
- Plan a variety of items to explore – different textures (wood, plastic, fabric…), games to do by themselves (sorting, stacking…), games to do with others (balls, cars..) help make play time interesting and changing. Include items from around the house: empty paper towel rolls, old clothes, jewelry, plastic bowls, wooden spoons…using their imaginations is a great playmate!
- Play outside – winter or summer the air is invigorating. Draw in the shade, make snow angels, run through the sprinkler, build towers or forts out of snow. Try to incorporate part of the day outside – when it’s really hot, stay in the shade and when it’s really cold, bundle up!
Listening to your child at play will give you clues to how you may help them expand on their play. Some ideas of how to expand are:
- If they are flying through space, perhaps a call from NASA will have them travel to new galaxies. Or bring home a large box and help make it into a rocket ship. Listen carefully, joining in now and then, but make sure the play remains the child’s, not yours.
- Include others to play with – babies need adults to read, play catch, sing with but by the age of 3 most children prefer the to play with their friends. So welcome other children to your home through play dates, play groups or meeting at the park.
- Keep all options available – both boys and girls can be strong or fast or silly. Every child needs trucks, dolls, blocks, paints, friends and encouragement to use their imaginations. Stereotypes have no place in play.
- Encourage cooperation – Children learn cooperation through having adults share with them. The generous spirit of giving helps children show compassion in others when we are sensitive to their needs and wants. Having toys the foster cooperation like wagons require one person to pull while one person rides.
- Problem Solving opportunities – disagreements will happen, but allow your child to work it out with words, unless it looks like it is getting violent. Helping your child learn how to work things out by first having each child stating what happened and what they think is fair or should happen next. Once they understand the process, children are very capable, and should be encouraged, to work out their own problems.
Sometimes your child will face a problem and as parents we want to help, but let them work it out. When we provide a solution, based on our experience, they can’t benefit from our experience and we are taking away their experience. It’s easier to just provide the solution when your child has a problem, but they won’t learn as much. Children need opportunities to figure things out for themselves. This is a chance for them to think – don’t take that away from them.
Only rules you need to have your child play safe:
- People are not for hurting. So there is not hitting, kicking or fighting.
- When there is a problem, we work it out with our words.
- When we are done with our toys, everything needs to be returned to it’s proper place.
A found this free form poem by Janice Thorson, Turner-Pattengill and thought is was appropriate called Who Said, “But All They Do is Play?”
A great resource for ideas to do with children at National Association for the Education of Young Child.