When you watch your child play, it sure looks like a lot of fun, right? It is! But play is much more than young children having fun. It’s actually hard work, too. Children use play to learn lots of different concepts and skills that form the building blocks of their life.
Play gives children an opportunity to be creative “while developing their imagination, dexterity and physical, cognitive and emotional strength,” according to a study on play and development from the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. When they play, children learn confidence and resiliency while practicing adult roles and skills in an environment they can control.
A child building a tower out of blocks or shapes may seem engaged in a simple task, but they are intrinsically learning science, technology, engineering and math skills. How many blocks can she stack before it topples over? If she lays a horizontal block on a vertical block, where must she balance the block, so her tower doesn’t come crashing down? If you watch your child doing a task like this, you can see the careful scientific consideration and development of motor skills she uses to slowly place that final piece to the tower. More than likely, your child has already experimented with other methods of stacking blocks, learning what does and doesn’t work.
Children learn through play. If your child is enrolled in an early learning program before kindergarten, most likely they are spending their time in childcare in play-based learning. If you peek into the classroom of voluntary prekindergarten (VPK) 4- and 5-year-olds, or even younger age groups, you probably won’t see rows of desks with a teacher up front at a white board. Instead, you’ll most likely see early childhood educators engaging with students in activities such as circle time, shared reading or free choice learning centers. Often, teachers intentionally place play items in these areas that match the week’s lessons, tying in new words and ideas to the theme. These educators guide play to incorporate literacy, math, social emotional and other skills into the activities.
How can you work guided play into at-home playing and learning? With a bit of grown-up help, your child’s natural inclinations to explore the world around them through play can be paired with their love of learning new things.
Let’s return to the tower game. If you see your child wants to build a tower, you might offer to help. Learning to work with others and take turns is a social emotional skill. While building the tower, you might talk about the blocks to work in early literacy skills. Are the blocks long or square, heavy or light? What colors are they? Add science and engineering skills: How many blocks do you have to work with? When the tower falls, what else can you and your child make with blocks?
Children are natural-born scientists. They love to learn, ask questions, experiment and see what happens. Why not join in their fun?
Do you want to find an early learning program near your home or work? The Child Care Resource & Referral team at the Early Learning Coalition can help. We can create a list of childcare providers in the zip codes you request. This is a free service for all Hillsborough County families. Visit elchc.org or call 813-515-2340 to find out more.