Play in early childhood helps children explore the limits of the world in a safe, healthy way. Even the youngest children learn critical life skills from play – and repetition.
Let’s take the physical world – for instance, gravity. It may just look like flinging hot wheels off the table and across the room but my 4 year old is learning about gravity, trajectory, and physics of motion. Can you imagine his face if one race car suddenly floated to the ceiling like a bubble? Knowing real cars also don’t float like a bubble when they leave the road is also an important idea to instill 10+ years before he starts driving a real car.
Creative play helps children create scenarios to test in the emotional world. The joy of being a parent, or princess, or chef – all come to life as they are immersed in the pretend world – minus the stress that those adult roles actually carry. They can try on different roles – like my son’s do – playing daddy. Once the discussion has been resolved on who will get the coveted “daddy” role they easily create imaginary scenarios full of goo-goo ga-ga and “I am off to work” scripts, helping them make sense of their world, while exploring what it feels like to be in different family positions and life roles.
Messy play is also a favorite activity for kids of all ages. Whether cutting a million tiny triangles as my two year old first uses scissors or squirting out daddy’s shaving cream, they are taking in all of that sensory information needed to evaluate their world. Taste, touch, sight, sound, and scent all fill their young minds with information they need – everyday. Why does soap clean our bodies but not our teeth? Why is soap sticky until you get your hands wet? Play can answer these questions and be a whole lot of fun, too.
Learning about their bodies is another skill learned though play which is critical in daily life. When my son was 3 years old we enrolled him in a gymnastics class. He couldn’t balance a lick the first week but by the second week he was easily walking on a balance beam. This skill seems minor but it had a huge impact on his self care abilities. He could get dressed more independently and being able to put on shoes or boots without a bench was awesome.
Joining in and playing with your children helps them learn to love the play you love. Children like what we do – not what we watch. If you love something, include your children. I was interviewing a potential teacher this week and was taking about this – and our kids. Kids watch, learn and LOVE what we do. This winter we are learning to skate and ski. While my 4 year old loves every moment on the bunny hill, he occasionally resists hockey practice. This is likely for a variety of reasons, but I feel that one is that every time we ski my husband and I are right there with him. Hockey – we watch – it’s good for him to learn from the relationships with his coaches and other players but that drive to be like mom and dad at this age makes it something he could forgo for now.
Lastly, play in early childhood helps children learn grown up skills. Two things my boys love most are sweeping and shoveling. Every snowy day becomes a breeze to get them up and ready because they are so eager to help daddy shovel the driveway. Also, if I take play into everyday routines, parenting gets a lot easier for me and a lot more fun for my boys.