Being a mom of two toddlers, I witness my children play… a lot! Most of the time, it can be noisy and messy, but sometimes it can also be quiet and effortless. It’s fun to see their smiling faces and inquisitive looks as they play pretend or build with blocks.
My children have opened my eyes to the simple fact that playtime is learning time. This is one reason why decided to homeschool my toddlers for preschool.
The importance of play
Children today are labeled as the “smartphone or tablet generation.” They can have almost everything they need in a convenient little device; information, games and apps are easily accessible with just a swipe and a click.
But despite living in this high-tech age, children still need to experience “real play”, where they run around, get messy, fall and stand up again, imagine and wonder. They learn more through it.
As a parent, I have the keys to cultivating my children’s love for learning by simply letting them play. I follow these easy steps:
1. Unleash your inner child and just play with them
We are our children’s first playmates. From the moment of birth, that’s what we naturally do! When my kids ask me to play with them, I happily oblige. Now that they’re bigger, I love playing house and building forts with them.
Children learn by interacting with us and they tend to be more creative when their parents are involved in their play. Besides being loads of fun, playtime is bonding time too. So, respond to your child’s invitation to play, even for just a few minutes!
2. Do art projects together
My son loves art activities, and he can now hold pencils and crayons in a tripod grip. He loves to draw, too… a lot! We enjoy our quality time together painting, drawing faces, making puppets or simple dioramas, and even making DIY toys.
Such simple activities are actually full of learning opportunities. Introduce colors and shapes to your little one by drawing or painting, while he practices fine motor skills at the same time. Using scissors is also a skill he needs to learn, and it helps exercise those little fingers to prepare them for holding a pencil firmly.
3. Consider everything as a game
Children love games, and they learn to comprehend just by following instructions. Whenever I ask my kids if they would like to play a game, they smile, jump, and say YES!
My baby girl loves playing catch, and we count to ten simultaneously as we play. My three-year-old enjoys matching games and sorting manipulatives (such as buttons or pebbles) by color, by size, or by number. Can you see how much they’re learning from our games?
4. Encourage sensory play
Sensory play helps practice their sensorimotor skills as they have experience different textures with their hands.
One of the best things that you can do to encourage sensory play in your home is to make sensory bins or bags. We have a couple of DIY bins at home (less expensive than store-bought sand and are made by staple household materials), and my kids spend time playing, scooping, and digging through them. Just mix some rice, oats, salt, and flour in a basin and you’re good to go.
5. Provide open-ended toys
Wooden toys or puzzle toys may be a bit more expensive, but are a good investment as these encourage imagination and creativity.
Toys like stackers, blocks (yes, even Lego!), tangrams and manipulatives such as beads, marbles, and wooden sticks all encourage creativity and curiosity.
Offer open-ended toys and activities and encourage your child to play with them in different ways. My kids love to pretend that their toy boxes are cars or a train. Baskets of beads and yarn or an empty cardboard box are also easy DIY open-ended toys.
6. Gear activities to your child’s interest
Learning becomes natural and self-directed when one is interested and invested in what he’s learning. For example, when my son was into cars, we made a road and parking slots from washi tape. We also labeled the cars with numbers so he would know where to park them. It was an instant matching game!
Observe your child’s playtime to know his interests and try to think of an activity for that.
7. Play pretend
Whether it’s a doll tea party or dressing up as kings and queens for a day, playing pretend is definitely a lot of fun for kids. Those costumes aren’t just for Halloween anymore, yay! Pretend play fosters imagination and creativity too.
My kids do independent play together now, and they usually involve their action figures or dolls and toy animals in their play. They cook for them, heal them as doctors, or make their own ”neighborhood” with blocks.
8. Ask questions first, then give suggestions
Encourage independent play by letting your child direct playtime. Ask him about what he’s doing. You can either stop there or follow up by giving suggestions in an inquisitive manner to develop comprehension.
For example, when my toddler was drawing one morning, I asked, “What are you drawing?” I then followed up by asking, “Can you try drawing me in a red dress, with shoes, hat, and bag?”
9. Sing and dance with your child
Aside from books, children develop their vocabulary by listening to music. Start them young and introduce them to simple songs and nursery rhymes.
Our well-loved simple songs include: Head, shoulders, knees, and toes, The wheels on the bus, Twinkle, twinkle little star, and Open, shut them among others. Later on, your child will relate the words from the songs to the things around him, so sing and dance with your child.
10. Go out and play
Make memories and play outside – ride a bike, climb trees, or blow bubbles in the garden. Try making BIG bubbles with glycerin, water, and dishwashing liquid, yay! My husband and I enjoy simply playing with them at the park or playground.
As parents, it’s a privilege to be able to relive our childhood and spend time playing with our children as if we were kids too!