Supporting play at home: 7 tips for parents

Your child admires you and thinks you are pretty special!

They want to be close to you, observe you and copy almost everything that you do.

As a parent, you are your child’s best and first teacher!

You already know young children love to play, and you can see that they have loads of fun while they are playing. But did you know that children are also learning as they are playing?

During play, children learn about the world and their surroundings, and most importantly, they learn about themselves!

Play is universal. In Canada, United States, Italy, China or Kenya, for children who are rural or urban, for children who are rich or poor, play is the natural way all children learn about their world. Play is simple, fun and memorable. It is not forced, but rather spontaneous with children choosing when and how they want to play.

As children play, they explore, discover, imagine, negotiate, take risks, creating meaning, try out roles and solve problems – all important foundations for developing important skills needed as they get older.

Defining Play

There is no ONE definition of play, but there are many characteristics, or different words we can use to describe play. The Encyclopedia of Children’s Health summarizes play very well:

“Play is the work of children. It consists of those activities performed for self-amusement that have behavioral, social, and psychomotor rewards. It is child-directed, and the rewards come from within the individual child; it is enjoyable and spontaneous”

Here are some tips for supporting play at home:

1. Make time for play

Making time for play seems easy, but many of us are so busy with other priorities competing for our attention (including driving our children back and forth to different activities) that sometimes it is easier said than done.

Make it a priority to ensure your child has at least 30 minutes of free-play every day – consider it your “homework”.

If you are finding it difficult to find 30 minutes for free-play everyday, you may need to consider your schedule and how many after work/school activities your child is enrolled in, or how many other commitments you have together. It is up to you – but you may want to talk to your child about choosing one or two activities and dropping the others.

2. Set-up the environment for play and choose the right toys

A well-organized and child-safe play space is essential to managing your child’s behavior and encouraging learning.

As parents, we have all thought to ourselves “my child has WAY TOO MANY TOYS!!

Children seem to have so much these days, and they have so much all at once. To help keep your child engaged and interested with the toys they have, try taking away toys that they have outgrown or are currently not showing any interest in (just place them in the closet until a later date or give them away!)

Try choosing open-ended toys/materials for your child to play with. Open-ended toys are ones which can be used flexibly and in many creative ways. This way the toy will last many years to come!

3. Be present during play

The best way to ensure your child gets the most out their play experience is to support their play without taking over (or being controlling). Remember, play is intended to be self-directed, spontaneous and fun!

You can be present during play by asking questions and providing toys/materials that expand upon their current knowledge base (because you know them best!), actively participating in play, talking about what they are doing, and showing a genuine interest in their play.

4. Provide choices

Give your child the freedom to make their own choice in what they would like to play and how they would like to play. This will not only build up their confidence, but it will ensure the play is based on your child’s interests!

5. Build play into your everyday routines and activities

It’s super easy to incorporate play into your daily routine! For example, you can play games in the car such as “I spy” or you can name the colour of different cars you see. During supper time you can cook and bake together, or you can ask for help sorting socks as you do laundry.

6. Observe your child during play

Watch and observe how your child plays alone or with others. You can learn so much about your child by observing them play!

Observing your child during play will give you a better understanding of what they are interested in and how they are currently learning. What activities interest them? Do they need guidance entering play situations? How do they integrate themselves into groups? Are they really into building with blocks right now? What activities do they choose when they are alone verses in a group?

7. Have fun!

Be silly and have fun with your child, show them that you can play too!

Keep in mind that play should never ever feel like a chore; it should always be for fun.  Play, by nature, is something that you want to do; so if are feeling in a crummy mood, it is okay to let your child know that you are not feeling well and cannot play right now, but assure them you will play later once you feel better.

Drop me a comment below, how do you encourage play at home?

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