Child’s Play Is Serious Business

October 8, 2013  |  

Raising children isn’t child’s play but being one is. Children experience their world through play. Play is the basis of learning in the primary years of life. Play stimulates healthy brain development, language skills, emotional expression, physical and cognitive ability.  Cognitive development is the brain’s ability to process new information, think reasonably, problem solve, remember and relate what you learned to what you know about the world.

Letting our children go wild with playing can mean a messier home, spills, more dirty clothes to clean and sometimes even cut knees and scraped chins we need to tend to.  All of that sounds like more work for moms and it is. But it is essential to allow our children to play and to join them in their play sometimes. If your child is not naturally motivated to play or you find yourself constantly discouraging playtime, you have a problem. When parents understand what play means to children and what it looks like, they become more inclined to support the playing process.  So, here is a guide to help you help them.

Newborns and Infants: The youngest of babies experience everything as play. Changing diapers, smiling at family, being fed and carried, holding a small toy, being sung to, watching mom move around the room–it’s all play to them. When you see your baby staring at you or grabbing or throwing an object, that’s play too! Join in the fun, follow their lead and copy their actions. Be sure to offer sound, space (to lay, roll, kick and throw), diverse environments (home, park, bus, store, sunshine) and varied texture (carpet vs. wood floors, hard vs. plush toys, bath water vs. raindrops).

Crawling and Cruising Toddlers: These almost-walking children are mastering physical control as they learn balance, coordination and muscle control. It is a very exciting time because they are becoming confident explorers! They are now interested in toys that have many possibilities like big chunky stacking toys, wooden blocks, nesting cups, shape sorters and toys for water and sand play. These are all toys that will keep your toddler engaged in creative imaginative play for hours a day.

Walking and Talking Toddlers: Items that promote imagination and imitation like cellphones, TV remotes, keys and your high-heeled shoes become their toys of choice.  Now is the time to put all important items in the house away and turn your home into one big child’s playroom. Let them play themselves into exhaustion. This is the perfect time to add things Play-Doh, scooters, crayons, finger paints, mini basketball hoops, dress up clothes and little tents to their toy chest. It is good to allow your children to play with toys across genders and generations. Rotary telephones, astronaut suits and feather boas are good for the imagination of both boys and girls, so try not to restrict them.

All of this play can feel like work to moms but it is worth it to try and be creative about how you make time to get involved in your child’s play. You and your child can play clean-up games while you are actually cleaning or let them help you cook and have a picnic in their room at dinnertime.

There will come a time when schoolwork, practicing a craft and writing a top-notch essay for college take precedence over play but early childhood is now is not that time.  The first few years of life are essential to who your child will become and how they will get there. Supporting and encouraging play is the single most important gift you can give your child.

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