As parents we have spent many happy hours watching (and joining in) with our children at play. Play activities could range from exploring cardboard boxes, snowman building to more elaborate schemes of fort building and Lego house domination (you know the drill, be careful where you walk when going from room to room).
We know that play is essential for children to learn. It is the hallmark of child development and the stuff that grows brains. Children explore their world through play, testing their skills and muscles, trying out new ideas. There are several types of play, all of which are valuable for growing children. Sometimes children like to play alone. This is called solitary play. Children may do puzzles, look at a book or draw pictures. How do children play together in a sandbox? Sometimes one is making a sandcastle while the other plays with a dump truck. This is called parallel play. Some children can spend hours in cooperative play, such as operating a lemonade stand, playing house or some other sort of pretend play. Play may get more sophisticated as children grow older. Children need lots of time to pursue their own ideas, to do things their way, to see what it is like to be someone else. Adults can encourage their children to play in ways that are valuable. It is important to remember Play is the work of children.
The following are general principles for adults to follow when helping children make the most of their play.
Allow ample time
Play takes time. Babies need to chew and taste. Toddlers need time to experiment, to feel the paint squiggling between their fingers, to pedal in circles, etc. Time is essential for 4- and 5- year-olds for their ever-more-elaborate play.
Keep it active
Children benefit most from play when they are intently involved.
Create a special place
Give children a space where they can play safely without interference
Plan for variety
Select different kinds of toys, always keeping safety in mind. Have some made of wood, plastic and fabric. Children enjoy texture. Offer toys that can be played with alone and those which invite cooperative play. Find some of your old clothes and hats, empty paper towel rolls, cardboard boxes, wooden bowls, plastic spoons and old magazines.
Enjoy the weather, warm or cold. Fresh air is invigorating to both parents and children! Many activities can be enjoyed equally well outside. Take a table outside for drawing, painting or playing with play dough. Children relish playing with sand and water outside.
If a baby enjoys splashing in the bath, a plastic cup would offer the chance to learn to pour the water. If a toddler wants to be a train driver, help him make a row of chairs into a "train." Listen carefully, join in now and again, but make sure the play remains the children's, not yours.
Children need time to play with adults. Babies love to be held, read to, sung to, played peek-a-boo with, and many other things that involve another adult or child. By age 3, most children prefer the company of their friends to play with. Companions make it possible for children to learn to share, to cooperate and to experience another point of view. Children benefit from attending playgroups or nursery school where there are even more possibilities for interaction and play.
Keep options available
Do not stereotype your child's play. Every boy and girl needs trucks, dolls, blocks, paint, an imagination and friends.
Children learn to share when people are generous with them. They become compassionate when we are sensitive to their needs and feelings. Offer playthings and activities that naturally involve cooperating with others. Telephones encourage a two-way conversation, "kitchens" need someone to cook and someone to eat.
And lastly, remember much of play involves problem-solving.
Disagreements are inevitable when children play. Give children the opportunity to resolve problems with words. You may need to direct the problem solving by asking the children what happened and what they think should happen next. In addition to getting along with others, children learn by tackling other problems in their play. A five-piece puzzle might be enough of a challenge for a toddler or a bright ball just out of reach for an infant might encourage reaching. It is tempting to do the puzzle or give the infant the ball, but they do not learn as much this way. Children need the opportunity to figure things out for themselves. They need the chance to think.
The material for this article was taken from "Play is Fundamental," by Janet Brown McCracken, published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
You can look for opportunities to foster play and new experiences for your preschooler. Check out the BHK Literacy Libraries and Home Visiting program, for more information call 482-3663. Portage Lake District Library's Story time, call 482-4570 for more information and Tree House Indoor Playground and Keweenaw Family Resource Center's Playgroups, call 482-9363 to inquire. For more information, visit ccgreatstart.org.
Editor's note: This article was written by Lisa Schmierer, Parent, Family &?Community Engagement coordinator at BHK?Child Development Board, and Cathy Benda, director of Keweenaw Family Resource Center and the Tree House Indoor Playground. Both are members of the Copper Country Great Start Collaborative, which is working together to help every child in the Copper Country be safe, healthy and ready to succeed in school and in life.