Okay you parents out there, how many of you want your children to grow up as competent, independent, able adults? Oh, all of you? Well, did you know that one of the greatest ways to teach your children is to let them play?!
I know, you're probably thinking "Play? Isn't that just something to keep kids entertained while I get real things done?" Yes and no. Of course it does help you get things done, but it is also so important for your child's development. Researchers have dedicated their lives to understanding children's development through play, parents (I'm sure you included!) have recognized real life examples of the importance of play, and even therapists have created a new form of therapy dedicated to play. Hmm...have I got ya hooked yet?
First off, before I dive into theory, research, and details, I want to take a minute to talk about how it is important for you (as the parent!) to play with your child. Playing and interacting with your child teaches them so many little things. Your children don't "just know" like you'd like them to. They have to learn, and learn for themselves! And guess who they learn the most from? Yep, you got it. YOU. Work with your children every day, whether it's through make-believe play, having them help you in the kitchen, or reading story books. Teach them as you go! I know it's so easy to lose patience with teaching and just tell them the answer. But they don't learn that way! Let them learn for themselves.
Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, spent much of his career focused on the development of children. Different than Freud and Piaget, Vygotsky believed that culture and social situations were the greatest teachers for children. He taught that make-believe play was a chance for children to practice those skills and situations that they have observed or encountered. As they play more and practice those skills, they are more confident in real life situations. They have the chance to practice social rules (how many children play "school" or "house"?) and to separate ideas from reality.
Another concept Vygotsky introduced is that of the Zone of Proximal Development. He believed that children had a level that they could reach on their own, and that they had a higher level that they could reach with help from adults, siblings, or friends. That help provides scaffolding for the child, lifting them higher and higher in their abilities.
What is learned through play?
You know, I think the real question is "What is NOT learned through play?" Like Vygotsky explained through his research, children learn so many skills through playing. These include problem solving, coping skills, sharing, curiosity, cooperation, expression and regulation of emotions, verbal and non-verbal skills, imagination, social skills, decision making, etc., etc. etc.! Just think about it: at school your child may have stations. She gets to make choices on which activities she wants to do! Your child works with clay or Play-Doh; he is learning how to be creative. Your child's friend comes over to play "school"; they are learning how to be a leader and how to listen.
We could go on and on! What have you observed from your child's play? What skills are he or she practicing?
I told you that play is now being used in therapy. It's really true! Therapists use toys and make-believe situations to see how a child reacts. They also set up situations to have the child practice new skills taught in therapy. If a child has practiced saying "no," revisted a traumatic experience, or had a chance to think through things, he or she will be much more likely to handle an issue more positively when the time comes again.
As a volunteer with the Strengthening Families Program, I have learned about a concept that I totally love. It is called My Time! My Time takes only 15 minutes a day. You and your child set aside 15 minutes of one-on-one time to play whatever your child wants to play! If you have multiple kids, choose one day a week for each child, or take turns with your spouse. The important part is that your child gets to choose what you do, and you do it with them! This not only encourages them to play (and make decisions!) but also builds your relationship with your child(ren). Go ahead, try it! Remember, you are your child's biggest teacher!
Having toys around that encourage imaginary play, like this PlanToys "My First Phone," is great for kids! Imaginary play is really where kids start learning about social rules.
Music is always a good way to play. This Skip Hop Hedgehog Accordion is perfect for even the littlest musicians and lets them express themselves through music!
Now that we've talked so much about play, go play with your children! Need some ideas? Check out our Pinterest board "Let's Play!" It features great ideas of activities to do with your children, along with more quotes and thoughts about the importance of play. And if you're new to The Baby Cubby check out this news article about our store from KSL news about The Baby Cubby.