Play is a vital part of child development - and it’s fun for parents too. Lisa Salmon explains how to be a playtime pro.
Parenting isn’t just about looking after your kids - it’s about having fun and playing too. And through that play, babies, tots and youngsters can learn crucial life lessons.
Through smiling, singing, modelling, imitation and games, for example, young children can learn about social interaction.
“Research has firmly established that the early years are a critical stage of child development, during which there’s a huge opportunity to shape a child’s growth and learning potential,” says Sarah Bouchie, head of the Learning Through Play in Early Childhood programme at The LEGO Foundation. “
What is playful parenting?
Good news - being a playful parent really doesn’t need a lot of time or toys. Quality play moments can happen during everyday routines, such as cooking, feeding, bath-time and bedtime, using readily available materials such as tissue paper and cardboard, which can be used as toys.
After some ideas? After studying research and parent-child experiences, the LEGO Foundation teamed up with play experts - they suggest playful parenting (particularly for children from birth to three years of age) should involve one or more of the following five characteristics...
1. Joyful play
It couldn’t be simpler. Parents can make eye-contact with their baby during play to communicate the joy of interaction, by smiling extra-wide and laughing, as well as using gestures such as clapping and high-fiving when a young child completes a tricky task.
2. Active engagement
If a child is pretending to fly a spaceship to the moon, the parent could contribute to the story by making “Whoosh!” sound effects, or further building the story by suggesting objects that could represent the moon (e.g. a pan lying against a wall). Maintaining eye-contact during play, lifting the child during the spaceship’s ‘lift-off’ etc, will all contribute to engagement.
3. Social interaction
During pretend play, parents can take on a character that must negotiate, plan, and work together with their child’s character to accomplish something.
4. Meaningful play
During pretend play, for example, a parent can model how to use a toy telephone. Young children and infants are likely to imitate this behaviour within their own play, serving as practice for real-life.
5. Repetitive play
Tots love to explore and try things over and over again in play. For example, they’ll fill a container with small objects and empty them all again in a repeating pattern. To parents, this may look like pointless repetition, but by repeating the process toddlers are experimenting.