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Learning through Play

Boy playing with sandWe love seeing children play!

Play is so essential to children’s healthy development that the United Nations declared that every child in the world should have the right to play.

Helping little ones play well by themselves and with others is key to their developmental success.

The importance of play

slinkyWhen children play, they practice skills they will need later in life. Playing promotes the development of attention, memory and self-control. Through play, children refine their gross and fine motor skills (being able to run, jump, paint, draw) using their large and small muscles. They also practice important problem solving and communication skills for interacting with others.

Making the most of play

play bricksHow can we help children get the most benefit out of play?

  • Make sure your child has time to play every day in an interesting, safe environment.
  • Use home-made toys—a cardboard box, pans from the kitchen, or old hats and scarves.
  • Let your child take the lead when she is playing. Watch what she is doing and talk about what you see, “You are building a big tower. It looks like you are going to add another block.” She will be excited that you are interested in what she is doing.
  • Ask questions to help your child expand on his play. “Hmmm, the block didn’t fit there, where else could you try?”
  • Spend time outdoors playing and exploring nature. Children who play outdoors regularly tend to do better in school, stay healthier, and be more creative and confident than peers without this opportunity.
  • Uninterrupted play helps children develop their ability to play on their own, to control their emotions, and encourages an interest in learning.

Playing with you

Tea dishesNothing influences your child more than a play relationship with you. When you play with your little one consistently (even for five minutes per day) a strong parent-child relationship develops.

Playing well with others

pin wheelUntil about the age of two, children are more interested in playing beside each other than with each other. They also do not yet understand the concept of sharing, so it is important not to force young children to share. That said, there are ways that you can begin to encourage good play behavior.

  • Model generosity and sharing with others in your own life and play “sharing games” where the child can practice taking turns with you and learn to trust that they will get the toy they share back again.
  • Praise good play behavior when you see it, “That was very thoughtful of you. I really liked how you let Rosa have a turn.”
  • Coach your child on how to handle the frustrations of playing with others. Encourage your child to use her words (if she is speaking) or come to you if she is upset rather than hitting or biting.
  • Play creates great opportunities for talking to children about emotions and developing empathy and problem solving skills. (“Liam looks sad. Do you see his face? He is frowning. I think he feels sad you took his toy.”)
  • When you have expectations, let your child know what you expect. For example, “I’m going to be using the phone, please play with your toys here next to me while I finish.” With an older child, you might say “We are going to the park, you can play with all the kids but stay where I can see you and you can see me.”

How to play with your child

watering canStart play as early as possible. Even newborns enjoy it when you play with them by making silly faces or mirroring their facial expressions and sounds. Follow your child’s lead and join in his play. You will create great memories that will last forever and help your child when he is playing by himself and with others.

Dr. David Anglada-Figueroa is a clinical psychologist with a passion for families and children and a spokesperson for First 5 Sonoma County. First 5 encourages parents to Read, Talk, and Play every day with their babies. For more information, visit first5sonomacounty.organd