Home Education Magazine
November-December 1997 - Articles
Playtime: A Time for Children and Parents to Share and to Grow
Amber P. Keefer
Some of the best experiences I've ever had included those times when my daughter, Kristian, and I played together. Whether we created strange-looking creatures from play dough, or covered each other with band-aids when we pretended to play hospital, we always had lots of fun. Much to my own disappointment, my little girl has since outgrown that particular stage of playing make-believe. Fortunately, though, those earlier playtimes we shared together served an important purpose. Our play adventures helped to nurture a wonderful imagination and creativity which my daughter now directs toward more grown-up challenges and goals.
Studies show that some of the most creative children are those whose parents have played with them. From my own experiences as the parent of a highly active and resourceful child, I know how important it is for children to channel their creative energies into constructive and rewarding outlets. Child development experts remind us that parents are among a child's first and best playmates, and for this reason, we must actually involve ourselves in our children's play.
Sharing play experiences together not only helps to pique a child's curiosity, it provides lots of opportunities for growth, too. Because children learn many things when they play, playtime experiences are essential to their physical, cognitive and social development. Play activities teach children the skills they will need to function as happy, capable adults.
We help our children develop physical skills and dexterity as they learn to reach, grasp, balance and manipulate objects. Toddlers begin to develop language skills as they play and interact with their parents. Even playing simple cooing games with an infant is one way for parents to help a child develop verbal skills. Later, when you begin reading to your toddler or telling stories, your child's language skills will develop even more.
Storytime is an important way for parents to share time with young children and help them learn and develop new skills. Long before my own daughter could read, she looked forward to the times when she would snuggle up between her father and I and point to the pictures as we read her a story. Eventually, she could recite her favorite stories word by word just by looking at the pictures. She chattered away at an early age, proving that the time we spent together helped her develop language and communication skills even before she was reading. By the time she did begin reading on her own, we reversed roles and allowed her to read to us. This role reversal not only helped to improve her reading skills, but it helped improve her vocabulary and language skills, as well. For years to come, this child who loved to hear the sound of her own voice (and still does), continued to look forward to our shared reading time together.
It's amazing how once children master basic language skills, they quickly begin to develop their social skills. Playing even simple board games with your children can help them learn how to get along with other people by teaching them to cooperate, take turns and play by the rules. It helps children understand more of the roles and rules of society when parents share in other kinds of play with them, too.
Playing helps children understand how the world works. When parents join in the play, children learn about themselves, their environment and the people around them. Providing a stimulating play environment and rewarding play experiences helps youngsters learn how to solve problems, thereby allowing them to move on to higher levels of thought. By rousing your children's interest and curiosity, you can help develop their potential to its fullest.
When you encourage your children to enrich their creativity by sharing play experiences with them, it helps them feel good about themselves and you will feel good about yourself, too. Positive play experiences help children grow confident and feel successful. What better reason could parents have to join in and take an active role in their children's play?
But not all children enjoy the same kinds of play. You should allow your children to determine the direction their play takes. It helps to observe a child closely in order to get to know his or her individual interests, abilities and limitations. It's important to join in the play at your child's ability level and not use playtime to test a child's skills. Instead, just have fun together.
Try to be creative by developing new and different ways to play with your children using all kinds of toys and props. For example, babies from birth to one year of age respond to sound, touch and sight. Use toys that stimulate your baby's senses in order to provide opportunities to learn about size, shape, sound and texture. Toys that make noises will usually get an infant's attention.
Later, when your baby is old enough to sit up, you can become more involved in play by introducing toys like blocks, balls, picture books and crayons. Use anything that you can share. Playtime really gets fun when toddlers begin to take interest in playing make-believe as a way to imitate the adult world around them. This stage of a child's development affords parents with all kinds of opportunities to join in the play. Toddlers between the ages of 2 and 3 usually enjoy playing dress-up in grown-up clothes and accessories. They are also particularly fond of using play food, dishes and utensils, stuffed toys, dolls and child-sized furniture to play house.
When you and your child tire of playing make-believe, there are always toy musical instruments to rekindle your interest. Rhythm instruments like drums and tambourines all make it easy for moms and dads to join in the fun and play along. For more challenging play, parents can help young children match the pieces of simple puzzles or shape sorters, or if you and your energetic toddler need more physically active play, you can always splash in a wading pool or play in a sandbox.
Parents should not be afraid to let down their hair and have fun playing with their children. The possibilities for creative play are endless, so take advantage of them. Younger children love to play by acting out grown-up roles and creating imaginary situations. They find make-believe much more fun, though, when parents play along. Children like to pretend by playing things like house, circus, doctor or store, and when they can share imaginative play and simple games with others, they find the experiences much more rewarding.
As children move through the various stages of development, play remains The most important things they can do. Playing with babies helps them become aware of their surroundings. Toddlers learn how to manipulate objects and move through their environment as they play. Throughout their childhood, playing with your children will help them continue to develop the imaginations and skills they will need to be successful, responsible adults. By playing and interacting with others, children learn how to grow.
Meaningful play experiences are necessary for a child's emotional well-being, as well. The most important things parents can do is to play with their children. Besides, no one knows your children better than you do and sharing playtime helps them get to know you better, too.
© 1997 Amber P. Keefer
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