Play is special for children. Not only is it fun, but it is also important for healthy development. It is their way of learning about the world.
Through play, children develop new skills, explore their imagination and creativity, and develop relationships with other people. Play motivates young children to learn and engage in activities that will support their development in an enjoyable way.
Parents and caregivers should provide a safe environment that offers a variety of play materials to meet the different developmental skill levels and support the creative interests of children. It is also important to maintain a structured daily routine that includes rest, meals/snacks, active play and quiet activities.
It is a good idea select toys that meet the interests of children during different stages of growth and development. When introducing new toys to children, it is important to show them how to play with and care for the new items.
You may want to help initiate play activities and then play with the children when asked to join in the activity. Parents are who children model their behaviour on. From the very beginning of your child’s life, they are engaging in play, whether following your face as you move it slowly from one side to the other, or listening to your voice as you sing to them. Children learn social skills by modeling your behaviour. Over the years, your children may have a lot of fun toys to play with, however, it is important that you develop and extend play through questioning, spoken language and modeling.
From the time they are born, until the age of 6, children go through five important stages of play:
Under 2 years
Under the age of two years, babies are exploring the new world around them. They spend most of their playtime making use of all of their senses, touching and tasting everything around them. They bang, learning repetition and trial and error.
2 years old
The next stage of play is for 2 and 3 year olds. Parallel play is when socialising first begins. Babies at this stage play next to each other, but do not interact. Even though they do not acknowledge each other, they do recognise that other babies are there.
2-3 years old
Shortly after parallel play, children start to imitate those around them. They’ve probably already been imitating their parents and adults in their lives, but at the stage of imitative play, they’re starting to embrace the actions of those their age.
3-4.5 years old
While maintaining their independent interests, children play together. They may acknowledge what the other is doing and discuss what they are doing with each other, but they are not yet working toward a common goal. They are not yet playing together.
4-6 years old
Finally, during cooperative play, children start to work toward a common goal. They are working together, or against each other, but most definitely interacting. This is the vital stage where we start to see future socializing skills forming.
At this stage of development, children enjoy making their own choices. They experiment with new materials and discover creative ways of using toys or recycled containers.
Pre-school age children learn manipulation, mastery and the meaning of objects. Manipulation is the process children use as they try figure out how different objects work and what they can do with them. Then, with some control over these objects, they progress to mastery and repeat actions as a way of practicing what they have learned. Children assign meaning to their play experiences when they can use materials in new and creative ways.
Children benefit from playing in the following areas:
• Blocks allow children to experiment with construction techniques while learning the vocabulary of spatial concepts like “inside,” “outside,” “next to” or “on top of”. In addition, blocks help children express ideas and feelings, interpret what they have observed and learn cooperation and planning.
• Pretend Play with housekeeping equipment, adult clothes and other materials, let children experience role-playing with their own family life or other people they encounter. With the right props, children can become firefighters, shop keepers, truck drivers, postal workers, fast food clerks or any other roles they want to explore. Creativity flows as children express their feelings, imagination and ideas.
• Art Materials include a variety of paper, crayons, paint supplies, pens, scissors, markers, collage materials, tape, a hole punch, glue, glitter and any other items that allow children to explore, experience their five senses and enjoy the freedom of creativity.
• Sensory Play can include containers of water, sand, dirt, birdseed, rice, cornmeal, ground walnut shells or any other texture that encourages experimentation with volume, measurement and other maths skills. Using measuring cups, buckets, water wheels, sifters, spoons and recycled containers, children can pour from one container to another. These activities develop problem solving skills, as well as stimulate a child’s sense of touch and are calming for children who need to relax or spend time alone.
• Puzzles and Manipulatives like small blocks, Lego, stringing beads, pegs and pegboards on tabletops or on the floor encourage children to develop their creativity, math skills, small muscles and hand-eye coordination. Watch out for small pieces around younger children.
• Music and Movement can be encouraged with recorded music, musical instruments (made or purchased), songs, finger plays and other items such as scarves, ribbons or streamers. These activities offer a change of pace, an opportunity to express feelings, release tension and provide fun with vocabulary and nonsense words.
• Cooking provides an opportunity for children to experiment with science, math skills and measurement. It also encourages them to follow directions, build vocabulary and try new foods. Cooking gives children the opportunity to observe changes from heat, cold or the addition of liquids. Single portion recipes allow children to make their own snacks while developing their reading skills.
• Books and Storytelling offer a different world to children. Visits to the library during storytelling hour give children a chance to experience the magic of a performance by a storyteller, find books on their favourite subjects and discover new things they would like to explore.
Recipes for Fun
1½ cups shaving foam
¼ cup white glue
Food color or liquid water color
Mix the glue and the shaving cream together in a bowl, until it looks like thick whipped cream. Divide into separate cups and add different colors to each one. Let the children apply it with paintbrushes, cotton bud or spoons to cardboard or paper plates. Let it dry for 24 to 48 hours.
School age children need lots of physical activity after a structured school day. Organised sports, athletic activities, arts and crafts, along with opportunities for conversation with friends and caring adults, will help to build self-confidence and encourage social growth. School age children may need these types of activities before they sit down to complete any word work or home learning tasks.
The following are examples of activities enjoyed by school-age children:
• Arts and Crafts can include weaving, clay, masks, costumes, puppets, sewing, knitting, tie dying, jewelry making and other similar activities. Children may still enjoy the creativity of plain paper, markers, pens or paint to create items such as paper hats, mobiles, masks, gift-wrap or original artwork.
• Games with Rules can include dodge ball, “Red Light, Green Light,” hopscotch, “Simon Says,” football, tennis, softball or other favourite sports played outside. Indoor games may include playing cards and board games. Activities using paper and pencil such as dot-to-dot, crossword puzzles, tic-tac-toe or even Pictionary, can challenge the mind and build self-esteem.
Recipes for Fun
2 cups flour
1 cup salt
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups water with food color or liquid watercolor
Mix all ingredients in a non-stick pan over medium heat until it pulls away from the sides of the pan. Turn out on wax paper. Knead when cool enough to handle
The following websites promote creative play with ideas for activities you can do at home with children of all ages using a wide range of creative materials:
• Public Broadcasting Service’s educational website for kids: www.pbs.org/wholechild/parents/play.html
• San Francisco Symphony Kids website on music appreciation especially for kids: www.sfskids.org
• Ideas and activities on how to develop creative play at home.