How to help children play...….
Updated: Jun 6
Feelings bamboozled by all the online activities available for your young child, or exhausted by being their sole source of entertainment? There is good news – play with small children is definitely a case of less is more. And by that I don’t mean less play (there is no such thing as too much play for children!) but rather less input by you. I’m talking about letting your child be the “director of play”.
At Overton Preschool Playgroup, we ensure every day has plenty of opportunities for child-led play, as well as some adult led activities. We make sure an interesting range of resources is available, change these regularly, and support the children to do what they know best – play in their own way!
Child-led play is where children choose how, where and what they wish to play with. Adults can join in the play, but follow the lead of the children. This has a very important role in learning and development in the Early Years and beyond, and is considered a vital part of child development.
The benefits of this are many. Being able to make their own choices and discover what they enjoy supports emotional development. It gives children independence from an early age, helping them to be more resilient and resourceful. It develops creativity – it’s just amazing what children will come up with when left to their own devices. Children often concentrate for much longer when following their own interests, a vital skill when it comes to school. It also helps grow the social skills of children, as they need to work out how to share and cooperate without adult intervention.
The role of the adult:
· Ensure children have uninterrupted time to play and explore their environment.
· Follow the child’s lead, and follow where their curiosity leads them.
· Just be there – your presence will help younger children feel safe and so able to explore.
· Watch and wait as they discover, invent and explore.
· Only help when a child ask for it – encourage children to persist when they run into problems by suggesting they try again or try a different way, rather than solving for them.
· Model being a problem solver, by showing them that you don’t always know the answers, being curious to find things out and talking about things which puzzle you.
· Help with conflicts only if they can’t be negotiated by the children themselves (if there is more than one child playing).
· Focus on the process rather than the outcome – encourage their efforts and draw attention to overcoming challenges and enjoyment of activities. While you might have an outcome in mind when you start an activity, let them take it where they want and how they want. It’s so important to learn there isn’t only a “right” way to do something, taking away a fear of getting things wrong – who cares if the animal you make has 12 eyes, or arms on its head, if it’s the way the child wants it.
· Provide an interesting range of things to play with (these can be very simple everyday items, and are usually all around you if you are playing outside: sticks, stones, mud, leaves, trees and so on.)
And the good news is it is simple, as often you need to nothing more than sit back, watch, and enjoy being part of their world, rather than being the one to suggest the games, the way a toy could be used or find the next thing to do. It might feel like you are ignoring them if it’s not the way you usually play, but it’s a great way to support their development, is wonderful to see what they do, and so much fun to just play with them, not be in charge. Who couldn’t use a little more joy in their days?