When my children were little, the garage doors on the block rolled up about 9:30 in the morning. The big wheels came out roaring and a handful of moms met outside. Together, we guided the kids through activities: Lego building, dress up, playing house or just swinging. When we tired of the neighborhood, we walked to the park.
Little did we know that we were teaching our children important life skills. According to Zero to Three, “Through play, children learn problem-solving, interpersonal skills, communication and other skills integral to success in school and life.”
With many families on the go, it’s hard to think about slowing down enough for exploration and play.
In “The Power of Play,” Zero to Three offers simple ways to incorporate play with young children in you busy day:
Peek-a-boo: Try hiding behind your hands, a diaper or a onesie as you dress your baby. Early on, he may show his pleasure simply by paying close attention. Then he may smile, kick his legs and make sounds. Soon he will pull your hands away from your face to “find” you.
Running, climbing and action games: Oldies but goodies like “Ring Around the Rosie” and “London Bridge” encourage children to move, sing, listen, take turns and cooperate. The park, playground and back yard offer chances to run, climb and play with other children. On a rainy day, try creating an obstacle course indoors.
Let’s do it again … and again: Through repetition, children figure out how things fit together and work. They might fill and dump a pail over and over to learn about full and empty and in and out. They may want you to read the same book and sing the same song, night after night. This kind of repetition helps children know what to expect. This gives them a sense of security and control over their world. It also helps them master new skills, which boosts their self-confidence.
Family and friends: Invite a friend over to play. Visit the neighborhood park or a cousin’s home. This gives your child a chance to play in ways that expose him or her to other children. These are great opportunities to act as your child’s coach in helping him or her learn to share and solve problems. They can learn new skills by watching other children, too.
Act it out: Encourage fantasy play by providing dress-up clothes and other props. Use items like hats, scarves, backpacks, bowls and containers, music makers and whatever else you and your child can find. Join the fun. When you get involved, you can help your child expand on ideas and also learn about thoughts and feelings as the act them out through play.
It is hard to find organized activities for young children. The libraries have storytimes for newborn through preschool aged children where parents are encouraged to “stay and play” after sessions. Local parks and recreation districts often have activities including ballet, tumbling and movement.
Regardless of how you play each day, the most important part involves you. When your child is playing with you, they are learning. You are your child’s first teacher.
For more information on the importance of playing with your child, you can download Zero to Three’s free AP “Let’s Play” or visit its Website at zerotothree.org.
First 5 El Dorado Children and Families Commission can be reached at 530-622-5787 for additional information.