Help your kids learn through play

Play is a vi­tal part of child de­vel­op­ment – and it’s fun for par­ents too. LISA SALMON ex­plains how to be a play­time pro

Gloucestershire Echo - - FAMILY MATTERS -

PAR­ENT­ING isn’t just about look­ing after your kids – it’s about hav­ing fun and play­ing too. And through that play, ba­bies, tots and young­sters can learn cru­cial life lessons.

Through smil­ing, singing, mod­el­ling, im­i­ta­tion and games, for ex­am­ple, young chil­dren can learn about so­cial in­ter­ac­tion. Even sim­ply play­ing with com­mon house­hold items – like cups, empty con­tain­ers and pans – they’ll be learn­ing about ob­jects’ feel and qual­ity, and what can be done with them.

Learn­ing a range of so­cioe­mo­tional and cog­ni­tive skills, in­clud­ing self-reg­u­la­tion and lan­guage, is also an im­por­tant part of child de­vel­op­ment – and this can be prac­ticed through early in­ter­ac­tions with others, in­clud­ing par­ent-child play.

Ev­i­dence also shows that se­cure at­tach­ment and bond­ing with a par­ent, which of­ten oc­curs dur­ing par­ent-child play, is im­por­tant for a child’s emo­tional well­be­ing, in­clud­ing stress and anx­i­ety re­duc­tion.

“Re­search has firmly es­tab­lished that the early years are a crit­i­cal stage of child de­vel­op­ment, dur­ing which there’s a huge op­por­tu­nity to shape a child’s growth and learn­ing po­ten­tial,” says Sarah Bouchie, head of the Learn­ing Through Play in Early Child­hood pro­gramme at The LEGO Foun­da­tion. “As chil­dren’s first play­mates and teach­ers, par­ents have the chance to give them a head-start on learn­ing through play that will last be­yond their ear­li­est years.”

And par­ents over­whelm­ingly want to get stuck in and play. Re­cent data col­lected from al­most 13,000 mums and dads for the

LEGO Play Well re­port found 89% say they en­joy play­time as much as their child does, 94% think play helps them get to know their child bet­ter, and 91% also be­lieve play time is good for their own well­be­ing.

WHAT IS PLAY­FUL PAR­ENT­ING?

GOOD news – be­ing a play­ful par­ent re­ally doesn’t need a lot of time or toys. Qual­ity play mo­ments can hap­pen dur­ing ev­ery­day rou­tines, such as cook­ing, feed­ing, bath-time and bed­time, us­ing read­ily avail­able ma­te­ri­als such as tis­sue paper and card­board, which can be used as toys.

After some ideas? After study­ing re­search and par­entchild ex­pe­ri­ences, the LEGO Foun­da­tion teamed up with play ex­perts – they sug­gest play­ful par­ent­ing (par­tic­u­larly for chil­dren from birth to three years of age) should in­volve one or more of these five char­ac­ter­is­tics...

1. Joy­ful play

IT couldn’t be sim­pler. Par­ents can make eye-con­tact with their baby dur­ing play to com­mu­ni­cate the joy of in­ter­ac­tion, by smil­ing ex­traw­ide and laugh­ing, as well as us­ing ges­tures such as clap­ping and high­fiv­ing when a young child com­pletes a tricky task.

Young in­fants es­pe­cially are greatly en­ter­tained by un­ex­pected events dur­ing play, so a par­ent can pro­vide joy­ful play by build­ing ex­cite­ment dur­ing peek-a-boo or a sim­ple jack-inthe-box game.

2. Ac­tive en­gage­ment

PAR­ENTS can encourage their child’s ab­sorp­tion in an ac­tiv­ity by elab­o­rat­ing on it and play­ing along.

For ex­am­ple, if a child is pre­tend­ing to fly a space­ship to the moon, the par­ent could con­trib­ute to the story by mak­ing “Whoosh!” sound ef­fects, or fur­ther build­ing the story by sug­gest­ing ob­jects that could rep­re­sent the moon (e.g. a pan ly­ing against a wall). Main­tain­ing eye-con­tact dur­ing play, lift­ing the child dur­ing the space­ship’s ‘lift-off’ etc, will all con­trib­ute to en­gage­ment.

3. So­cial in­ter­ac­tion

WHILE par­ents can play along­side their child, it’s likely that deeper learn­ing comes from so­cially-in­ter­ac­tive par­ent-child play. This means that dur­ing pre­tend play, for ex­am­ple, par­ents can take on a char­ac­ter that must ne­go­ti­ate, plan, and work to­gether with their child’s char­ac­ter to ac­com­plish some­thing.

This kind of team­work dur­ing play feels so­cially-in­ter­ac­tive and is an ideal time to dis­cuss feel­ings and prac­tice rea­son­ing.

4. Mean­ing­ful play

EARLY par­ent-child play al­lows chil­dren to make sense of their world, by point­ing to things in the en­vi­ron­ment and ex­press­ing what they are. Dur­ing pre­tend play, for ex­am­ple, a par­ent can model how to use a toy tele­phone. Young chil­dren and in­fants are likely to im­i­tate this be­hav­iour within their own play, serv­ing as prac­tice for real-life.

5. Rep­e­ti­tion

TOTS love to ex­plore and try things over and over again in play. For ex­am­ple, they’ll fill a con­tainer with small ob­jects and empty them all again in a re­peat­ing pat­tern. To par­ents, this may look like point­less rep­e­ti­tion, but by re­peat­ing the process tod­dlers are ex­per­i­ment­ing with the phys­i­cal prop­er­ties of the ob­jects. In this way, par­ents can think of repet­i­tive, or it­er­a­tive, play as mini­sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments. They can sup­port this by play­fully en­cour­ag­ing the tweak­ing and re­peat­ing process. “Ex­am­ples of par­ent-child play are all around us – in the su­per­mar­ket, play­ground and home,” adds Sarah. “What’s more, both chil­dren and par­ents ben­e­fit from play­ful in­ter­ac­tions mak­ing play a great way to strengthen the bonds be­tween par­ents and their chil­dren and help them de­velop.”

Ev­ery mo­ment of a child’s day is the per­fect time to turn an or­di­nary ac­tiv­ity into a bit of fun and a chance to learn some­thing

Chil­dren love to do the same thing over and over – think of it as a sim­ple sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ment sug­gests Sarah Bouchie, in­set, from The LEGO Foun­da­tion

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