“They’re just playing.” Have you heard those words? What seems to be JUST playing comes with enormous benefits. Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Ph.D., in her book, The Incredible Years, shares, “Sometimes parents realize the benefits of play but see no need to get personally involved in it. They mistakenly assume that play is instinctive – the one thing that children can do for themselves without adult help.”
Although it is true that children do engage in play themselves, the addition of a caring and responsive adult joining in the play deepens and extends the benefits. When we think about young children especially, the relationship in which play occurs is key. Do you want to really tune-in to your child, know their feelings, find out what they can do, and what they really think of their world? Do you want to promote a child’s positive self-worth and confidence? Do you want your child to be creative? Then play with them. Playing with children enhances warm relationships and builds a positive emotional account that can later offer an anchor when things are not going the best. The time parents spend in play with their child results in positive interaction and attention, which then potentially reduces a child’s reason for gaining negative attention though other misbehaviors. Wouldn’t that alone be worth it!
Play is often referred to as a child’s work. We all know the old toddler experiment, “drop the cup off the high chair tray and see who picks it up!” Here’s a new view. Is that toddler investigating gravity and the willingness for an adult to help when they need it? What about the sounds the cups makes when it hits the floor? If play is indeed a child’s work, then the world is filled with experiments and experiences. The world becomes a place to test out ideas, solve problems, use imagination in creative ways, figure out cause and effect and communicate thoughts and feelings. Playing with your child promotes cognitive, social and emotional growth. All this learning happens in the context of fun with a caring adult. Those experiences cement brain connections that last a lifetime.
What’s on you playlist? Here are just a few age appropriate ideas.
Use take apart toys, nesting, stackable toys, blocks or use what you have around the house
Read sturdy board books
Play simple “hide and seek” games, objects and people
Investigate the sights, sounds, textures and feel of the outside world
*this age predominantly explores with their senses (touch, taste, smell) so be aware of safety hazards
2-3 Years (large muscle play)
Play with simple puzzles, scribbling paper, crayons, washable markers or PlayDough
String large beads, play with puppets, or make music with household objects or shakers
Play in the sandbox or water. Use a large paintbrush with water and let them paint the house,
Read every day. Point to pictures and talk about characters and what they’re doing,
3-4 Years (moving toward more fine muscle play)
Pretend house, school, store, bus, mom or dad’s work
Play with clay, crayons, finger paint, blunt scissors. They will be starting to like craft projects – expect messiness
Make collections of leaves, pinecones or rocks,
Play simple board games, dice or card games
Read every day – They can now start to predict what will happen next, talk about traits of the characters. They will ask for the same book over and over – remember repetition builds the brain
Play outside! Join them in running, jumping or skipping
4-5 Years (the pretender stage)
They have more interest in word and number games and board games are still fun
Use your imagination – “If you could be a food, what would you be?” Silly is fun!
Make props, like masks, for their creative play
Active outside play like tricycle riding, timed races and bike courses around the yard.
Read every day
5-7 Years (new skills to try out)
Play active outdoor games like ball or biking
They may want friends to join in the play
They love riddles and jokes
Play board games – but remember, they like to WIN at this age. On occasion take turns making up the game rules, share the power you don’t need
Read every day – take turn reading or let them write their own book,
Make a lemonade stand or encourage small adult supervised construction projects. They have an interest in real world stuff and imagination abounds, but they need an adult to set limits.
*NOTE: As with all activities and play, be sure safety is your first concern. Adult supervision required.
Be a “brain builder.” Take the Time and play every day! You won’t regret a single moment and neither will your children!
Want more age-appropriate play ideas with your child? Contact West Dakota Parent& Family Resource Center at 701-456-0007 or toll free at 1-877-264-1142.