Embracing every opportunity for play

Play is the most effective form of learning you will ever be able to offer your child.  It is the foundation and language of childhood, crucial for forming and maintaining friendships and establishing social skills for life.  It is simultaneously embracing a multitude of learning styles and activities, all of which your child will naturally engage in when they play. 

Yet in today’s busy, test-driven, technology-saturated world, many children have less opportunity for traditional forms of play than children a generation or two ago.  Research shows children today spend only half as much time playing outside as their parents did, with worrying links to children’s general level of physical fitness, their tendency towards unhealthy weight gain as well as their mental well-being.

With every opportunity you have, offer every kind of play to your child.

To support and promote your child’s development, it is vital that you continue to encourage their play – at any age.  Once in school, systems of testing and achievement milestones can see these natural learning styles becoming narrowly channelled, causing many children to disengage from learning at this time – a key aspect of my research and work with schools.

Be aware of your child’s schedules, demands and extracurricular activities.

While it might seem beneficial to enrol your child in every club and organisation available to them, what they really need is scheduled time for creativity, relaxation and free, unstructured play.  Sounds simple – but this may take more planning than days gone by when hours were devoted to freely exploring the neighbourhood.  However, the opportunities for acquiring essential life skills make this a worthwhile effort – and easier on the bank account too!

Studies linking frequent free play and creativity to positive effects on schoolwork and beyond.

The best way to encourage your child to engage in free play is to allow them the time, space and permissions for it. Today’s children can find themselves with every free minute organised and diarised.  Juggling school, after school activities, tennis lessons, swim team, piano practice, and other enrichment activities can effectively scheduled out time to engage in free play. 

Resist overly academic approaches with young children. 

“Accelerating” development is not the same as “improving” development, so avoid being enticed by the promises of flash cards or educational aids.  It is so much more important to enrich your child’s learning in wider and deeper ways.  Develop their love of enquiry and investigation as you play, rather than finding yourself trying to teach more facts.  Engage and support their interests, rather than seeking to school them. And be mindful of all aspects of physical and mental development, while you resist focusing on just one.

Children need their whole childhood to explore and play.

Support this process by offering your child time to play, both alone and with peers as they experience all the fun, laughter and opportunities for learning and social interaction that a playful childhood brings.

This session is taken from our course: What Every Parent Should Know

Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods.  Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child.   www.nurturingchildhoods.co.uk


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