Play is often thought of as inconsequential, not important or a way for children to be entertained with toys.
It’s a way of keeping them busy and allows us as parents and adults to do other tasks like caring, household chores
and cooking which never seem to end! However, play is and can be a powerful tool and skill!
Consider the possibility that play is a vehicle for understanding and interpreting the world, it has purpose and meaning and is in fact vital for children to learn like any other skill. Play is most definitely a skill and encompasses many facets of learning. Some of these include; imaginative or dramatic play, constructive play, fine and gross motor play, creative play, cognitive play to name a few.
Early childhood settings utilise these facets and areas of play to set up play spaces for learning for children. Play is hard work and requires children to build connections in their brain as they work out how to play with a particular toy or equipment or game. Often times you will notice that your child plays with the same toys in the same way until that time it changes. These repetitions are laying down pathways for them to remember so they can build up their knowledge. Once they have repeated the action several times they make the connection that the end result is always going to be the same given the same action with the same toy. A scientific exploration!
Think of when a baby is sitting in a high chair and they drop something, the first time it is likely accidental. They look down and see it is on the floor, usually we pick it up and give it back to them. They drop it again. So, it continues until we stop picking it up. The repetition is laying down the neural pathway in their brain. If I drop it, it stays on the floor as I cannot reach it, unless a grown up picks it up for me. These little experiments that children come across in everyday life are important for their learning. Add in the language that accompanies this action and it is a powerful learning experience. Words that might be used: “You dropped it, here it is, here you go, I picked it up, it’s on the floor, wait a moment and I will pick it up, what happened? Where is it? Look!”
While your little one is napping or busy playing elsewhere; try setting up a play space much like this one using what you may have at home (with no screens on as these can be distracting for everyone):
When you notice them come into the room, sit on the couch and invite them to explore or watch your child and see how they respond. Let them lead the play and offer your open hand if they want you to take something from them. As the play continues you may find they will direct you to do certain things or act a certain way depending on their age and development. Try and play like this three times a week, for just 20 minutes; notice what happens. I would love to hear any feedback about your ‘playtime’.
The wonder of play is a powerful tool for connection, exploration, inspiration and learning. Allow your inner child to come out and play with your child for a little while, and explore the wonder it can bring.