Play time is so important for our children as a foundation for learning. Here are some tips to encourage meaningful and purposeful play, to maximise your child’s learning opportunities through play:
Let your child have some unstructured play time everyday – don’t make their days so full with activities that they don’t have any time to create, explore and experiment. Give them free time to play! (And don’t let them choose to watch TV in this time).
Don’t interfere in their play – don’t criticise, plan, direct or correct the way they are planning. Let them guide their own learning. Research tells us that the more motivated we are to do something, the more meaningful the experience.
Don’t solve all their problems for them immediately – if they want to do something in a certain way, but have difficulty with it when they are playing, give them the time and opportunity to try and solve the problem for themselves; if they can’t, give them some clues and guidance, but don’t do it for them. The more they learn to solve minor problems, the more able they will be to cope with larger, more complex challenges.
Give them opportunities for play dates – playing with peers is important for emotional and social development. Arrange regular play dates with some of your child’s friends. If they have disagreements, give them some space to work it out, don’t step-in unless you see it’s necessary. These are great opportunities for learning to compromise and resolve conflict.
Screen activities are not play – TV games, computers games and games on an iPad or phone have been proven to often hinder development of social-emotional and language skills, rather than stimulate it. You don’t need to cut these out completely, but researched guidelines suggest that the developing brain should not be exposed to more than about 30 minutes a day (for children under 4) and not more than 45 minutes a day for children under 7. Follow the principle that when it comes to screen time – Less is more!
Basic toys / items are often more beneficial than expensive toys – some of the toys that children love the most are very basic things e.g. cardboard boxes, bicycles, Tupperware, blocks, balls, spades, old tyres etc. These provide for so many different play options, rather than an expensive toy that can often only be used in one way.
Take your children out and about with you – give your children the chance to explore different environments and experiences as these all offer different learning opportunities e.g. playing on the beach versus playing in a park versus playing in a fun play centre with other children. Talk to them about what they are seeing, touching and hearing. Let them organise their own picnics when you go to a park or let them organise campouts in the garden.
Play with your children – follow their lead, encourage their ideas, build on their themes and just enjoy spending this precious time with your children. Not only are you the perfect person for them to practice their skills on but playing together will make them feel much closer to you and it opens doors for communication.
Encourage imaginary play by buying open-ended toys e.g. arts and crafts supplies (which could be toilet rolls, cardboard, tinfoil, paint, glue, scissors, leaves, flowers, ice cream sticks etc); items for dressing up; things like farm yards and soldiers and dolls and cars etc. Also, when they are younger encourage symbolic play by buying toys like pretend lawnmowers, brooms, cooking utensils or gardening tools.
Written by Tamaryn Hunter – BSc (Occupational Therapy) – Occupational Therapist