Children learn through play. It’s their language. As they roll around on the ground, play pretend games or paint and draw, they test their physical strength, they set up problems and they find solutions; “Teddy has a broken leg, we must find ways of making teddy better”. As they talk, move and have fun, children are constantly learning. Their imaginations are expanding and they are learning how to relate with others.
When a child feels understood and appreciated by their parent during play, their negative behaviour decreases, their confidence increases and this in turn makes them better able to make and keep friends. The most important first step when playing with your child is to follow their lead. Let yourself be guided by their ideas and imagination but still get involved yourself. You’ll find that when you sit back and follow your child’s lead, you give them the chance to use their imagination and express themselves through play. Once we, as parents, are interested and attentive to our child’s play, they become much more involved and interested , which supports their creativity. By dedicating short, regular and specific times to play with your child, you are providing an opportunity for the development of their confidence and communication skills. It is also a lot of fun, which is an important part of building a strong and healthy relationship with them.
Some useful things to bear in mind when playing with your child:
- Let your child lead the play. You may have to be a witch one day, a Gruffalo the next so just roll with it
- Let them change the game and for younger children let them change the rules – they need to feel ownership of it
- Listen and respect their activity. Try to avoid testing questions such as ‘what is this?’ ‘ What colour, shape, size etc. is this?’
- Be attentive and help with the game without taking over
- Play regularly with your child so they know you have this special time together
- Allow for experimenting and mistakes
- Appreciate and encourage your child’s efforts
- Don’t compete with young children; this can discourage them from wanting to play with you
- Young children need to win more than they lose
As well as toys that you can buy such as sets of animals, toy people, cars, blocks etc., remember that paper and paint , water and sand, mud, pots and pans, pegs, wooden spoons, wooden blocks, old clothes to dress up, boxes of all sizes and shapes give children hours of fun.
Let your hair down , have fun with your child and you will understand exactly why Einstein described play as ‘the highest form of research’.