For adults, play is often a luxury reserved for spare time that has not been scheduled with grown-up responsibilities. For children however, play is what they do to develop new skills and gain knowledge of the world.
Young children benefit from time spent playing alone, with other children, and with parents or other caring adults. What do children learn from play, and how can parents help make the most of playtime?
As children play, they learn and practice words to describe their toys, their actions and their feelings. When playing with your child, you can help boost her vocabulary and understanding of words by talking about the size, shape, colour, texture and location of the toys you are using.
Play helps develop early math skills. Sort toy animals from smallest to largest or blocks by colour. Use simple puzzles to match shapes. Count toys as they go in and out of the toy box. Fill measuring cups with water in the tub, or with sand in the sand box. Look for numbers in books or on toys or other household items.
Gross Motor Skills
From rolling over, to crawling and walking, and then eventually running, kicking and jumping, children learn to use their bodies effectively through play. Give your child plenty of opportunity to put his energy to good use building gross motor skills. As he gets older, he will fine tune his balance and coordination.
Fine Motor Skills
A baby will learn to grasp a toy, and later will discover she can pass that toy from one hand to the other. Banging toys together or picking up small, safe objects like dry cereal give her the practice she needs to one day hold a pencil and use scissors.
Sharing and Turn-Taking
The social aspect of play is very important as well. Children learn about cooperation when playing with another child or adult. Sharing is not a skill that comes quickly or easily to a young child, so patience and practice are required.
Understanding Cause and Effect
One of the first games a baby learns to play is "I Drop It — You Pick It Up". He is learning about cause and effect. When he drops the toy, it not only makes a sound on the floor, but it is then returned to him to start again. Over time, instead of dropping items to be retrieved, he learns to play catch.
In the first few years of life, children are constantly learning. Play enables this learning to happen in a very fun way. Take some time every day to play with your child and you will both enjoy the benefits.
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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