mother playing pretend telephone with little boy using building blocks

Let's Play (Part 2)

In my previous blog, I talked about the importance of play for children’s physical, neurological and emotional development.

"But don’t they do enough of that at kindy or school?" Well, no. Parents should also try to find some time to play with their children. Who knows, you might enjoy it!

HOW (AND WHY) TO PLAY AT HOME

While you can set some limits when playing to protect children (such as avoiding climbing on dangerous structures or using sharp things unless they’ve been taught how to) sometimes kids need to be able to get dirty, stain their clothes, scream and yell, and make a mess. That doesn’t mean letting them run wild in the lounge room or wrecking their best outfit, but helping them to find suitable play clothes and places to play that allow some freedom.

Kids learn different things during free play to what they learn at school. However, what they learn through play complements their formal learning and is still necessary for good school performance in later years.

IDEAS FOR ENCOURAGING AND TAKING PART IN FREE PLAY

It’s often hard for adults to take part in free play with their children. What if you feel like you don’t have much time or are tired from work, or find it hard to switch off and enjoy a simple game? The good news is that even just a few minutes helps us to get into the habit of sharing fun time with our children, communicating with them and helping to encourage their growth as human beings.

For very young children, you can start by giving them access to materials that encourage them to experiment with shapes and forms: fabrics, blocks, paper, scissors, pencils, dough. If you keep some materials organised but still on display and within the reach of children, they can get them when they need to play or express themselves, and you can share that moment with them.

RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO TAKE CHARGE

Parents also need to resist the temptation to ask questions in an effort to 'get involved' or start a child's game, such as “what are you going to do?” and “what are you doing now?" Questions such as these can limit freedom in the child's play because it can make it sound like there’s only one way to do things, or cause the child to try to do what they think the parent wants them to. Try replacing these phrases with comments like "hey, that looks like fun", and follow the child's lead: “oh, so this is a rocket going to go to...do you want to go to the moon?”

Sometimes we can just carefully observe and let the child know we’re willing to help with whatever is needed (“Do you want me to help you tie this here?”) or play along with whatever role given to us (“so I’m a passenger on the rocket with you – wow, I can see stars out the window”). This can be much more valuable – and educational – than guiding the game, giving instructions or teaching how something is normally used or played with.

Remember, if you’re not used to playing with your kids, start little by little. Just a few minutes a week, where you can follow your children's game (without taking over), will help make this an enjoyable, entertaining way of sharing time with kids, helping them to grow as human beings and strengthening the parent-child relationship.

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