Is it Really Child's Play
There are two ways play can be interesting to children. The first is having a child observe things parents do around the house or as part of daily living or work chores. Children love to emulate and reinforce observed skill sets of the parents. It makes them feel tied to the family. This is very important social and language learning, and allows the child to reproduce the observed skill set of the parent. The second way to learn is through imaginative and exploratory play, as well as trial and error. A child can take almost anything and give it personal meaning as well as enjoyment while playing. It is during this time you must assuredly will hear your child say things that sound just like you – you said it originally!
The focus here is on a Child’s observation of parents and learning through imitation. Often, it is important for a parent to ‘think like a child,’ to assure that activities are in the best interest of the child. For example, we know a child is hardwired to be on the move and to explore with its mind, hands, feet and all the senses; interestingly, this being the case, our western schools have developed more of a ‘sit still and learn’ classroom than our counter parts in the Scandinavian and Asian countries, which promote greater use of playtime. If you can engage your child to do physical activities that you initiate, you will be helping your child to use up energy, blow off steam, and ‘play’ with the social and language skills that will be needed as she grows up. The American Academy of Pediatrics substantiates this and believes, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children.” It is truly awesome how the mind, body, and soul, can be so beautifully massaged during play.
A play back moment for me was watching school systems around the country in financial difficulty cutting physical education and the arts programs, both of which rely on total body involvement. As science and math became more of an issue, poor choices in curricula dominated executive decisions. There is a rich correlation between a child’s readiness for learning and getting opportunities to play. The brain is thirsty for as many opportunities to collect information and then to use that information for personal growth.
Parent driven play and imaginative play also are venues for exploring how a child can negotiate with decision-making. For example, if a child wants to take 2 boxes to another part of a room, and cannot quite carry both, the child will figure out it is best to leave one, transport one, and then come back for the other. This kind of decision making seems so elementary, but to a child, it takes trial and error and remembering an experience the child can draw upon.
Working parents also have the problem of finding time to engage in family play. If you have to schedule every minute of your time when you get home from work, including a start and end time for a play activity, you may want to rethink what you are doing. Play needs flexibility and a child needs to feel that nothing else will come in its way. Having the undivided time of a parent, when both parent and child are interacting, having fun, problem solving, exploring the imagination, and role-playing, is a dream come true for our children. That dream come true, however, should be a child’s daily expectation.
And, what about that habit all of us seem to have learned - constantly on the cell phone or at the computer. This is sending the wrong message to your child, reducing her physical activity and the value play should have on her whole body as a tool of learning. Let your child see you do things physically. Invite the child to help you with tasks, and seek her advice about what you are doing – sometimes being the student is the best way to be an effective teacher! Leave the tools used for a project out so the child could try using them creatively when she is ready to do so. Get yourself dirty if the task requires it. It will make it a lot easier to accept your child’s play style and even bring a laugh to the conversation – “just like mom”!
A sobering thought is play has been around since the beginning of time and always part of the human experience. Be there for your child in this generation. Think about what you can do which will help your child to be creative, imaginative, verbal, helpful, and a productive human. Think about your early years of play and the fun you had. Play on the idea for a bit.
Dr. Jerry Cammarata
Author: The Fun Book of Fatherhood
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