What is Play? What is structured and unstructured play? Do you ever wonder or think, is my child playing too much or not at all? When my child plays is it even educational or developmentally appropriate? As Early Childhood Development Specialists we are here to tell you, Play can be the most beneficial and important stage of your child’s life from infancy to their preschool years! Wow, You Say! Well come on already, ask us why?
Well according to the Academy of Pediatrics, play contributes to the physical, emotional, cognitive and social skills of your child. Play also gives that time for parents and or caregivers to be fully engaged with the child. With the new movement of academics and curriculum being pushed down earlier, and with the new rush of technology many families are not engaging in play like generations ago. We know there are 2 different types of play; free play– which is when children are left to amuse themselves in any way, and use their imagination without any direction or guidance from adults. We have even witnessed some free play unsupervised for older children. Structured Play-, which is when children are given direction and or guidance in specific activities to broaden and or develop the necessary skills for their current stage of development. Both types are necessary, but more structured play can be utilized with you at home, used with nannies, and or when deciding on how to choose a school for your children.
Below are the top 5 ways to engage in more structured play with your children, to take their individual development to the next level. The key is to practice being in a conscious state as much as possible to notice what you are doing and how to adjust- not to make yourself try to be perfect. Show your children, you can get down and dirty too!
- Provide new ideas and learning opportunities- Next time you are home, or the caregiver is with your child, let the child peruse around to find 2-3 of their favorite toys. Use these toys as an opportunity to ask open-ended questions, discuss observations, and use visual cues and so forth. This will open your child’s mind to answering questions (even if they can not speak). This will further benefit their comprehension and cognitive skills for the future. Make a commitment to begin this once a day!
- Boost up the physical activity and motor play- Do you understand how important active play is for growing children? Make use of a playground, museum, taking a walk, and or playing a movement game at home. Your child will love playing leapfrog, roll over my friend, or hop and jump scooter at home. Make up games, and remember they do not have to be lengthy; using 15 minutes to begin is just as suitable.
- Emotional Tolerance/Social Skills/Team Building- Children need to be given outlets and techniques for handling their emotions. Guiding our children to learn how to behave and what is expected in every situation is crucial. Learning how to work as a team, even if it is just you and baby, or sibling and baby. These are skills for life. Find games to encourage team building, kindness and concern for not only themselves but also others.
- Encourage Their Use of Imagination- In today’s society we do not see many people still dreaming or understanding how important it is to use your imagination. Begin on a weekday and take 15 minutes to create imaginary fun. This will not only boost their self-esteem, but also have your child engage with either words or facial expressions to show you how they are feeling. Encourage the love of books and reading by bringing life into your story time, imagination goes a long way.
- Take notes on your child’s developmental level- This is an important step, begin taking notes about where you feel developmentally your child is. Check out the CDC, website to get a guideline of where your child should be for their age. Use this to challenge them as you create more activities. Have fun, this is what childhood and parenting is all about. You and your child were made for each other and have a special gift together. Work on that gift, master that gift and teach others.