Winter is coming
What to do with the children in wintery cold days?
How to make use of the winter season for enhancing your child’s development? Turn the TV off, stay in your slippers and let them play. There are few things about play that you need to know in order to be able to enhance and facilitate it at home.
The first thing to know about play is that play is learning.
Children learn to play and play to learn. Play nourishes every aspect of children’s development – physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and creative. The learning in play is integrated, powerful, and largely invisible to the untrained eye. Much of this learning happens without direct teaching. Children as great learners can play all day if they have been set with the right conditions and are allowed to do it.
The second thing to know is that play becomes more complex as the child develops
It evolves over the course of early childhood. The baby plays first with her/his own body, then with close people around him with simple games of peek-a-boo and simple objects to touch, taste and manipulate.
By two years of age, the child can move to “real” objects to play; a set of kitchen pans and lids, wooden spoons and few things to put in and out will gives enough materials for an extended period of self-play.
As the child is getting older, the play objects changes, now the child can “pretend” that the block is a phone, the chairs becomes a train and pine cones are food to cook. The older child can have a plan; collect the materials needed and execute the plan.
Today it is widely recognised that play develops the foundation of intellectual, social, physical, and emotional skills necessary for success in school and in life. Meaningful self-directed play can be seen as the building blocks that pave the way for later academic learning.
Block building, sand and water play lay the foundation for logical mathematical thinking, scientific reasoning, and cognitive problem solving. Rough-and-tumble play develops social and emotional self-regulation and may be particularly important in the development of social competence in boys. Pretend imaginative play paves the way to reasoning, language, thinking, creative and problem solving skills.
Children that can’t play will usually show some sort of developmental delay or learning difficulties.
The third thing to know is that quality play needs space and time
This changes according to the child’s developmental age. The under three year olds likes to play around the adults rather than in their room or play room (in kindy, in the first few months of the year, one Educator will sit on the round carpet and the children will play around her), so it needs to be allowed to happen anywhere the adult is spending their time.
As the child gets older, less adults presence is needed. The four and five year olds prefer to play without adults present and actually play better when the adult is not present in their space.
Play needs time to start and evolve. It takes some time before the child starts to play and become involved, especially if they haven’t experienced it much before. Play can’t be rushed, however, the adult can state the expectations and say “look, I prepared for you few things to play with while I am cooking”. Older children can understand “play time” concept, where the parents instruct them to “go on and play”.
It is helpful to set times for play as we have in kindy. A home rhythm with certain times set for certain activities will allow the child to feel secure and free to explore. Play length can start at 20 minutes at a time for the under threes and goes up to one hour and even more for the older child.
Sometimes play stops and starts again, so parents need to decide if it is possible to leave the creations and objects available for continuation later on or if it is time to pack way. On rainy days at kindy we leave the play uninterrupted for the whole morning until lunch, as children go back to their creations in interval times.
It is also helpful to know that play needs time to build up. It takes some time before the child can get really involved in play; there is a “warm up” time and “cooling down” time which need to be taken into account when setting play times at home. The hardest thing for a child to do is to stop playing just 20 minutes after starting.
So, play is not in between time, it is an activity in itself.
The fourth thing to know is that you as an adult have an important role in how the play will happen
Your children will do well in areas they are being praised for and know that you care about. At kindy we take many photos of the children’s play and we emphasise and protect children’s play time and space. The children learn to play in most creative and meaningful ways.
At home, you need to show the same enthusiasm and care for your child’s play as well. Taking photos of your child’s play and bringing it to show us at kindy will send an indirect message to your child that you care and appreciate the play. Of course the child’s confidence and self-esteem in believing that he/she can play will rise. It doesn’t mean that you need to sit and watch your child’s play the whole time; you just need few minutes to appreciate the play and share praise.
As Steiner Educators, we know that children play best when we are busy doing our tasks as well. We have daily tasks that we carry out during the day such as preparation of drawing papers, cleaning the painting trays, preparing clay balls, cleaning the room and other daily tasks. The children imitate our ‘work” with their “work”.
How much adult’s involvement is needed in the child’s play? It depends on the child’s age. The child under three, will love to be able to make you a cup of tea or dinner and have you around when needed. The older children will need you less, and unless there is a safety issue, it is better to just let them be.
So, there you are, all ready to set your child to play this winter. I added few ideas about play things and spaces you can create for your child.
Play things for creative free play
Simple everyday objects such as clothes pegs, old kitchen equipment, rolling pin, wooden bowls, small pots, silverware, saucers and pitchers and anything you can afford for the child to use will do.
A shoe box can become a garage for the toy cars or a bed for the doll, or if you get your hands on a large storage card box, it is endless fun. A few pieces of cloth (old sheets will do) draped over the table or between chairs becomes a tent for adventures and hours of fun. A simple “tent” made of sheets in the bedroom or living room will open a whole word of opportunities and imagination.
Magic Box containing coloured pieces of cloth in various sizes.
These will be used for tablecloths, baby blankets, and rivers or to create a space for an action scene for a doll or puppet play. Natural materials like rocks, shells, pine cones, chestnuts or walnuts, if made available in small baskets or other containers will appear as part of doll scenery, pieces of food, small animals or whatever is needed in the moment’s play. Less is more in my view, so start small and expand later on.
So, take this winter period as opportunity to enhance your child’s development in all areas by letting them play and imagine. I would love to hear back for you about play experiences at home.
This is a highly recommended article if you want to read more about the whole subject of play (pdf):