If we are lucky, we get to hear this request often, and should take it as a compliment! Most children only ask people to play with them, who they think are fun to play with. But parents, and grandparents, are often unsure what their role is when asked to play. Are we there simply to keep them safe, as supervisor? Do we act as a referee, to make sure everyone plays nicely? Should we tell them what to do, and organize their play? The answer to these questions is yes, sometimes, all that & so much more!
Psychologists suggest that play is the ideal context for acquiring social skills & forming friendships. Trawick-Smith, in the book, Interaction in the Classroom – How Do We Facilitate Play? describes three important types of play: make believe; group games; and outdoor motor play; all of which are important in the development of social skills and forming friendships. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (1986) summarizes the benefits of play, “Knowledge is not something given to children as if they were empty vessels to be filled. Children acquire knowledge about the physical and social world in which they live through playful interaction with objects and people. Children do not need to be forced to learn; they are motivated by their own desire to make sense of their world (p.20)”.
Trawick-Smith tells us there are developmental benefits to play:
· stress reduction & reduction of anxiety
· ideal context for acquiring social skills and forming friendships
· important contributions to cognitive development & intellectual growth
· problem solving ability
· language development
· healthy personality development
· early reading skills
So how do we capitalize on this natural desire of early learners, to play, learn, and make sense of their world? There are 4 important times to play with children:
· when a child doesn’t play; by playing with or around a child who doesn’t
interact with materials or peers, an adult can offer gentle invitations to participate, increase social contact, promote friendships and enhance social skills
· when children need support; Yawkey, Smilansky et al (1987, 1968) found
that it is not enough to simply provide more opportunities and materials to engage in social pretend play, only when adults joined in the play, were gains achieved in play and language development
· when a teachable moment arises; when opportunities arise as children
are learning a new concept, or are thinking about a problem in a new way, an adult may intervene and take advantage of the moment by adding new information to an exploration, give hints to help solve a problem, or ask questions to guide thinking.
· when a child invites you to play; an adult who joins in the play has the
opportunity to learn more about a child’s social competence, their anxieties, concerns, or interests. It is during play that children show us what they know, and how they think.
So the answer to the question about how we can enhance and extend the play of our children, is to see ‘play’ as their ‘work’, and be present. Be present, to watch and observe, to invite or join in, ask questions, make suggestions, share in their joy and celebrate their eagerness to grow and learn.
Anita Wadley’s poem “Just Playing” provides a wonderful reminder of the importance of play!
‘When you ask me what I did today,
And I say, “I JUST Played”,
Please don’t misunderstand me.
For, you see, I’m learning as I play.
I’m learning to enjoy and be successful in work.
I’m preparing for tomorrow.
Today, I’m a child and my work is play’
In response to questions from parents at BELA , our staff have devoted our Professional Learning time this year to learning more about effectively facilitating play. April 20 @ 1:00- 2:30, Ms. Flynn and Mrs. Parenas will be offering a workshop for parents designed to provide information about facilitating play, and opportunities to practice different ways to facilitate play with your own child. Please join us!
Director of Education & Programming