How to facilitate play between adults and children?

What is play for children? Does it involve tumbling or making faces? Does it involve building connections with another child or a group of children? If a play is child’s work, where do you fit into their work? Are you the boss, leader, coach or a co-worker?

According to Clare Caro, “child-led play is where the child follows their own play urges.” It does not refer to the play amid which the parent follows the child, or to play amid which the child follows the parent. While the play might be the work of children, the work does not get done without your assistance. Quality play experiences are created and nurtured when parents are involved in the process.

How is play a key that helps unlock the door to learning? David Elkind describes, “play is crucial for physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development at all ages. This is especially true of the purest form of play- the unstructured, self-motivated, imaginative, independent kind, where children initiate their own games and even invent their own rules.” How can you best support your pre-schoolers play experiences? Parents of these young learning sponges can become a learning ally to offer a safe learning environment, let them follow their own play urges, support them without interrupting watch and wait as they discover, invent and explore.

What is your role as an adult in your toddlers play? For enriching and extending creative/educational learning, you can plan, support and review your child’s play. You can equip children with necessary help, props, time, and space to build up their play. NCCA (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) mentions, “this role involves many dimensions such as when to intervene and when to stand back.” Parents can create an indoor and outdoor environment that provides a wide range of play possibilities, enhance and extend the play based on the toddler’s knowledge, gather information about child’s play and use this to extend their learning and development.

When parents control, lead or take over their child’s play, they are violating the basic principles of play being self-chosen and self-directed by the child. When children lose the freedom to explore openly, the experience loses its meaning. Instead, if you support your child’s experiences by being present and engaged, but not taking over, you allow them to build up themselves, engage in learning and exploration and you can provide opportunities to help stretch and grow their experiences. Children’s play builds up over time and is improved when given the right kind of support. A parent’s role changes in play during early childhood, apart from providing secure base and opportunities they need to extend and change the play pattern and support children in handling emotions.

When you become a learning ally you are actively involved in your child’s play, gifting your child the chance to play uninterrupted. This creates a circle of trust, as you learn to trust your child managing their own capabilities, you begin to feel more comfortable with stepping back and trusting in their ability.  Through observation you can sit silently and peacefully at a distance. You have the power to enable your child unlock the power of play! A win-win situation.

Reference used:

  1. Article title: The Adult Role in Child-led Play

         Website title: Nature Play

  1. Elkind, D. (2008). The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally. American Journal of Play1(1), 1-6.
  2. NCCA (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment). (2009). Aistear: The Early Childhood Curriculum Framework.

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