“It is paradoxical that many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.” Leo F. Buscaglia
Parents are the child’s first and favorite playmates. Child is close to you from the beginning and he/she is playing with you whether watching you at meal times or listening your voice as you talk or change their clothes. The child needs you to help him learn the social and emotional skills through play. Play energizes the children, it eases out their emotions and it enables their sense of learning and opens them up to the new possibilities. Play in young children fosters belongingness and encourages building up the skills like cooperation, waiting, sharing, taking turns, showing timely reactions etc. Children learn while playing and it also gives them a chance to practice what they have learnt.
First three years are very important for child. Playing, as a parent, helps to create a warm bond between you both and supports essential development of some skills like physical, language, thinking, social and emotional skills. For toddlers, play is the most “serious minded work”. It is not a luxury for them, it is a necessity. Toddlers learn as well as master the skills through play. They learn to explore, create and communicate via play. The child will use these skills in group activities when he grows up. A child will also learn what is suitable to play with and what is not. For example, he learns that it is good to play with a sipper or saucer but it’s not good to throw it in trash bin. Making time for creative and active play also helps in reducing a child’s challenging behavior.
Fred Rogers quoted, “When children pretend, they’re using their imaginations to move beyond the bounds of reality. A stick can be a magic wand. A sock can be a puppet. A small child can be a superhero.”
Here are few tips to make your child’s playtime more effective-
1. Let the child lead in the play– You (the parent or the care giver) can provide a toy or activity to your child and see what he/she does with it. It’s alright if it’s not the “correct” way to play with it, let your child find her “New” way to explore the toy. For example when you give your child a plastic bowl, instead of eating from it, she can use it as a hat on his head. Let her play and enjoy the way she wants. You must support your child’s creativity rather than forcing her to do what you want.
2. Go slow- Its good to show your child in the beginning how a toy works. But don’t try to do it every time she plays. Let her try to do it herself. For example, you can show your child to stack up the blocks and then you can encourage her to do it herself. It will motivate your child in a positive way.
3. Read the signals- child may not be able to talk or express his feelings in words but you can read the signals to know what activities your child likes and what he does not. It can be some facial expression, or some sound or gesture. Reading these signals will help you to change the activity or shift the attention of your child, which can help in avoiding the frustration.
4. Create child-friendly Space– you have to see whether the area where the child plays is safe or not? Are there any distractions or noises? Is this area good enough for the activity you have chosen such as jumping, running, throwing ball or drawing/painting etc? Checking out the space before hand can prevent an accident or some other damage.
5. Repetition is necessary– Doing a task or activity again and again gives enough practice to child for mastering a skill. And after doing a particular skill, all by herself, the confidence level of the child is boosted up. They will be able to take up more challenges and learn new things in future. So next time, if you try to hide a toy from the child thinking that it’s boring, remember that repetition is important for your child’s development.
6. Join the child- Take delight in her new inventions or discoveries in play. This enhances the parent-child bond as well as the child becomes a life long learner.
7. Figure out- See what your child is trying to learn or achieve through a particular activity. For example, she may be learning the concept of floating and sinking when she is throwing every toy in the bath tub.
8. Provide support- Provide the required support which your child needs to accomplish a goal. Does she need your help to pick some heavy object? Or she wants you to stand behind her to help to lift the blocks and making a tower?
9. Present the new Challenges- when you see that your child is ready for the next step, you can provide some new challenges to her. For example, when she’s learning to walk, you can keep some favorite toy a little farther away so that she can walk till that point and also experience the joy and power of moving herself without any help.
10. Be spontaneous- you should not take play as a work. Play should be a joyful and exciting time which binds you and your child together and you should remember to enjoy each moment of your child’s play. So relax, play is good for you too, to unwind yourself with your child.
Even Babies Need a Break-Sometimes we find that the child is getting irritated or showing some gestures. It means that the child needs a break. There are some common “I need a break” signals like, arching her back, turning the head away, closing or rubbing the eyes, crying, fussing, throwing the things, showing tantrums, etc. When these signals are seen, you should try giving your baby some rest for a while. Take away the baby from the play area, holding her in arms or making her sleep. This will give her time to calm down, and to refresh physically and mentally.