Re-discovering the lost art of play

Far from relaxing ‘down-time’ play involves lots of complex social interactions and debate.  If you observe your child when they are playing with others, you will be able to see the complexities of these behaviours for yourself. 

The complexities of joining other children playing.

To join play that is already underway, your child needs to contribute to that play. They need to take on the role of a character that fits in with the story that is being played out, adding to the storyline in ways that everyone in the game is happy to accept or go along with.  And this involves a lot of complex rules if the play is to proceed smoothly.

Picking up on the explicit and implicit rules of play – and being able to follow them. 

Whenever your child tries to join in with play, there will be a lot of rules they need to follow.  Rules governing who can play, who is taking the lead and calling the shots.  Rules about the props that the game will allow, who can have them and what they can be used for.  There will also be elaborate twists of plot line, some will be permitted, others will see the play stop in its tracks. 

Your child will need to identify and understand all this fine detail very quickly if they are to be allowed to join, and that takes a great deal of practice. 

Developing the social skills of play

Child-led play, rather than activities being directed by adults, allows your child to develop all the social skills they need to engage with other children, to put forward their opinions and accommodate the ideas of others.  These are complex conventions and must be experienced time and again as they develop their techniques.

Playing with your child to develop their playing skills

When looking to play with your child, let them choose and guide the activities.  While it might be your natural reaction to try and manage things, you want to do this as little as possible.  No matter the age of your child or the style of play they wish to engage in, provided you allow them to take the lead, they will be the expert. 

This offers them a real sense of empowerment and voice that they may rarely experience otherwise.  If you suggest a game to play or direction to follow, your child will probably just take your lead.  Effectively bypassing all the beautiful exploration that the play can bring.  As a result, it will be short lived and less engaging than it could have been.

And most of all – simply have fun.

Play should have no agenda, no right or wrong way and there is nothing that needs to be accomplished.  So, let your child explore their social skills as they play.  Go to the park and practice joining in or watching how other children are managing it as they build the confidence to try for themselves.

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.


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