Read anything on child development and you’ll see how key play is for children. Play based learning is the way the early years of primary education is taught now. So what can we do to support our children’s learning around the home?
Encourage free play
Children are remarkably good at coming up with their own play if you leave them to it. Parents can often be so keen to entertain their children they do lots to keep them amused but they end up doing so much of the talking and playing the child doesn’t get to lead the play activities.
We did a course when Daniel was about 18 months old and it was all about speech development but focussed on play activities as a way to initiate speech scenarios. Part of the course required us to identify which parenting role we took on in play interactions and it was a surprise for both of us to see we were in the “tester role”. Parents of children with special needs are even more likely to fall into this category as if language development is delayed we end up asking lots of questions to see what our child understands. When we stopped asking lots of questions we were amazed at how much happier Daniel was to just play!
When children are in charge of their own play you can see the things they’re genuinely interested in and the stage of play they’re at. Our boys love playing with a dolls house, their Schleich animals and duplo. Rory likes to build rockets – which gives great opportunities to count up and down to 5. Daniel loves having a party set up in his dolls house and gets the characters to all talk to each other.
OWL – observe, wait, listen
I try and let the boys start of their play by themselves, then once it’s established they quite often ask me to come across and play with them. At this point I try and comment on what they are doing. There’s a strategy for assisting children called OWL – observing, waiting, listening that we have found useful with Daniel in particular when he was younger. Now the boys both have a good bit more speech it’s much easier to chat and play with them.
We also do some dressing up, quite often I’m the patient (well, the baby is) and the boys play doctors with me. Or they’re firefighter/cleaners (they seem to think the fire extinguisher is a spray cleaning bottle!). I know some parents whose children are obsessed with role playing and they have to spend a lot of time acting as pirates or princesses!
Open ended toys
The key for us has been ensuring our boys have as many open ended toys as possible. We avoid plastic battery operated toys that only serve one function. The most played with toy is their duplo which can be houses, towers, rockets, airplanes or animals.
They also love building forts with their books, blankets and seats.
A dolls’ house is quite open ended as they can play out home scenarios like meals, people having baths, sleeping but they also have parties at their house, move the people and furniture out and use it with the animals, or use it as a garage and put all their cars in it!
They also improvise with a set of stacking blocks, making them cups for a tea party or putting different sized balls in them.
It is difficult when others don’t share your enthusiasm for simple, mostly wooden toys. We have found birthdays and Christmas gifts difficult. Even books we’ve been given are themed books like Thomas the Tank Engine (the boys don’t watch it, it’s a TV programme isn’t it?!) with those electronic buttons down the side of them! Don’t feel guilty moving gifts like that on if they’re not what you want.