Play comes naturally to children. It is their work; it is through play that they learn about themselves and the world.
When parents participate in play, they help to develop their child’s literacy, numeracy and social skills.
As well, spending time playing together is one of the best ways to strengthen the parent-child bond.
For some parents, the idea of getting down on the floor to play with a child feels awkward. Sometimes it may seem like a poor use of time. After all, the laundry is piling up, there are dishes in the sink and dinner won’t make itself.
But when a parent can spend even a few minutes a day playing, the long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term inconveniences.
What does play look like? It may be hard to know where to start, so it is best to go straight to an expert on the subject: your child.
By following your child’s lead, you are showing her that you care about what is important to her.
Babies love to see your face and hear the sound of your voice. Play with your young baby by cuddling, rocking and singing.
As he gets older and can grasp objects, give him a toy that rattles or crinkles and make music together. Look at picture books or in the mirror. Play peek-a-boo. When he is able to sit up, roll a ball back and forth between you. Talk and sing to your baby throughout the day.
Toddlers love to imitate the adults in their lives. As much as possible, let your toddler ‘help’ you with your daily chores. A toy broom, some plastic mixing bowls, or toy tools will allow her to work alongside you and copy your actions.
Read to your child often and talk about the pictures in the book. Blocks, stacking cups or simple puzzles may be favourites. Remember to spend lots of time, both indoors and out, running, climbing and having fun.
Preschoolers are able to remember familiar songs or phrases from books and may ask to hear the same stories over and over.
Your preschooler might love to create with paint, glue, scissors and more. Keep a box of art supplies handy and spend time making masterpieces together. Remember that art is learning about textures, shapes and colours, and try not to worry about the finished product.
Preschoolers may enjoy building with blocks, playing dress-up, or games like I-Spy or Hide and Seek.
School-age children are growing more independent, but still love to play with Mom or Dad. Board games or puzzles might be popular. Take turns reading to each other. Even once your child is able to read on her own, she will likely still enjoy hearing you tell a story. Spend time being active together; biking, skating, playing catch or tag.
The time you spend playing with your child is never wasted. You are helping him learn not only about the world around him, but about himself and his abilities.
Play is one of the best ways you can show your child just how much you love him.
Shawna Munro works at the Elspeth Reid Family Resource Centre, a facility of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba that offers parenting information and support.
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