I’ve said it before in previous posts. Play is the very best way for a child to learn anything. A child will absorb more information effortlessly if it is done through their own playful interests and in their own time. As play is the key to learning, lets take a look at what you can do at home to assist your child to learn more from play.
Firstly children can, and do, learn a great deal from solitary (independent) play, particularly in the early years before the age of 2. Its around this age however that young children also get great social benefit from playing with others. If your child is this age it’s certainly time to try and connect with other mothers in your community. This is obviously a great way to share your knowledge and let your kids play together at the same time.
Once your child reaches the age of 3 the benefits of play between young children become increasingly obvious. The children feed off each other’s energy and learning becomes enhanced. As great deal of play knowledge is realized through some form of imitation it can be useful to know how to extract the best out of each play activity as it arises. Here then are 6 tips to boost your child’s learning even further as they play together with friends.
· Reflect what is happening as they play; Make a verbal statement that summarizes what the children are doing together. (or at least what your child is doing) “Kaito, those camera’s you are making with Lego blocks look great, can I take a picture?” While kids may understand the basics of what they are doing, a verbal summary from an adult confirms and validates their actions. An affirming statement says “Yes, I approve of what you are doing.” As well as providing an important frame of reference from which to build, this form of emotional support and encouragement promotes confidence, which brings new energy into the situation.
· Ask open ended questions as they play; This will help you to discover more about what your child is doing and thinking. As open ended questions encourage a longer and more detailed answer it opens you up to full and meaningful insights that will come direct from your child’s feelings and knowledge. With these details you will then be able to move on to tip #3.
· Provide more information as they play; In order to build on the play (and therefore the knowledge) that the children are experiencing you can provide more information. “Kaito, If you make your camera bigger you could use it to take movies for T.V.” Kaito and his play buddy then learn something specific and this also prompts tip #4.
· Introduce a change of focus at the right time; Your new information (bigger cameras are used for T.V.) is then added to the past experience (making cameras) to make the play move in a new direction and thus extending its energy. For example, perhaps the children will then start filming a T.V. show. This step is helped by good timing. The time to introduce a change of focus by introducing new information is when the old topic (making Cameras) has reached its peak level of interest.
· Offer direction with encouragement and support; Ideally you should just uncover the new information and leave it for the kids to pick up. However if the kids don't pick it themselves you can then make a suggestion. “If you use the larger bricks in the box over there you can make it bigger and be a T.V. cameraman.” Again, its ideal if the kids choose their own play activity, so that they can feel that they “Own it” but suggesting the direction of new play is certainly also beneficial because adding support and encouragement in this way will also greatly boost your child’s self esteem.
· Help your child move beyond current understanding; As your child’s play progresses various opportunities will arise. For example if the children then started to pretend to “make a movie” you could help them by organizing additional props that they could use. Dads shirt and tie? A cardboard box car? Or perhaps a broom stick microphone? The beauty of play is that it can end up anywhere.
The above simple steps can be routinely used to enhance your child’s play experience and boost their learning to higher levels. Some of these will come naturally to you as you watch your child play however making a conscious habit with those that don't can make a tremendous difference to your child’s learning over the long term. Its also important to let the kids feel in control of what they are doing and the key here is to make sure that safety and fun are always the dominant aspects of any play activity.