NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County

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A Child's Work

A Child’s Work

                Play is such a crucial element of a child’s life that is has been called the “work of childhood.”  It is through play that children make connections between themselves and the world. One child psychologist, Dr. Gary Landreth, explained children and their connection with play by saying, “Birds fly, fish swim, and children play”.

                The benefits of unstructured play are often missed by adults who want children to ‘do it properly’ and ‘stop messing about’, but children are programmed to play. Play is the best way for a child to learn the skills they will need in later life and it is important for parents to recognize that time spent playing with your child is not time away from learning but is instead how they learn best.

                A mix of play types is the most important recipe for success as it teaches the range of skills a child needs to develop fully. In our modern tech world, video games and computers are both tools for adults and toys for children.  Technology is a skill set needed for life today, but are our children missing other types of play? Consider the following top tips for positive play when providing your child with opportunities to play.

                What is the developmental level of your child? You want to plan the activity so that your child does not struggle with it nor does he get bored with it too easily.

                What are your child’s interests? Most children let us know in no uncertain terms what they are interested in. Does your child gravitate to the sink and love playing in the water. Then plan for an extra-long bath time where you can let him splash about and explore the water with you.

                Activities that allow a child or children to experience the materials at multiple skill levels often will keep your child or children engaged for longer periods of time. Items such as play dough, open ended art activities, blocks, or just, many large cardboard boxes to use for pretend play; can engage your child or children even if they have different skill levels. These are activities and materials that have great play value. Whatever your age, curiosity, imagination and creativity are like muscles: if you don’t use them, you lose them.”

                How new or unique is the activity? Sometimes you can add interest to a common activity by changing it out in some manner. You can change the location, such as taking a typically-indoor activity like food preparation or folding laundry outdoors. You can add new materials to a cooking activity, such as letting your child cut up their own soft vegetables with a plastic knife or mixing their own batter in a small bowl (which you later incorporate into the whole).

                Encourage mixed age play - Older children benefit from the responsibility of being ‘in charge’ of a situation and younger children will want to be seen to be ‘bigger’ which will mean that they will generally behave better and can learn a lot from just being around older children.

                Look for activities that you can do as a family.  Playing together helps to build relationships and can help the family to bond.

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