Play: An inexpensive learning tool for children of all ages

Play is essential for healthy child development.

Play is a very important part of childhood! Photo credit: Pixabay.

Play is a very important part of childhood! Photo credit: Pixabay.

Children learn in a variety of ways. As a parent or caregiver of young children Michigan State University Extension knows you want your child to learn all they can, but how do you accomplish that in your busy schedule? The answer is simple. Play! Play is fun, you don’t need to purchase expensive tools to participate and it is the primary way that children learn. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recognized play as an important tool in promoting healthy child development.

When children play they are learning many things about themselves, the environment they live in, the people they spend time with and the world that surrounds them. They learn how to solve simple problems, how to get along with others, creativity, and skills that will help them learn to read and write. Play is when a child uses all his senses to experience the world around them. It is endless exploration! “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning…They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play,” said Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood).

Parents and caregivers are a child’s first plaything. MSU Extension suggests these simple reminders about play:

  • Environment – Provide a safe place where children have room for their toys and a space to explore. Toys are the props for play and parents should consider the safety of a toy as well as the recommendation age labeling.
  • Interaction – Get involved in an active role with a child. This isn’t supervision; it is getting down on a child’s level to play “with” the child. Let the child lead the play and make decisions on what to play and how to play.
  • Observation – Pay attention. By watching the child you will learn what they like and what they are capable of at their current developmental stage.
  • Creativity – Be a kid again. A block can be a phone, food can be pretend and driving can be accomplished without a vehicle.
  • Challenges – Question what will happen next. Ask a child what else they might try. Pretend that there is a problem and discuss possible solution. Keep in mind the child’s age and stage of development.
  • Choices – Provide a variety of play activities and toys. Use your creativity with household items. Play can be for the child alone, with someone else, time inside, time outdoors, and quiet time as well.
  • Flexibility – Be willing to change direction quickly. Not all children have the same attention span and are often ready to move on before the adult is. Understand that your interests may be different from the child’s.
  • Modeling – Your child is watching you. Think about the language you use when you are frustrated, the way you solve problems and how you interact with others. Your child will model their play after the actions of the adults in their life.
  • Fun – Play is intended to be a “fun” way to learn. It shouldn’t be a chore. Reading 30 minutes a day can happen in five-minute segments if a child loses interest easily.

Play is a simple thing, yet a very important component of childhood that can provide school readiness benefits and academic success for your child! For more on information caregiving or family issues that affect you visit and your family, visit MSU Extension online.

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