You stop and stare as you look at the living room you just cleaned a half hour ago. How is it possible that your child could create a disaster of this magnitude in such a short period of time? You get ready to say “You need to clean-up this mess right now” but in your pause of disbelief you realize that your child has carefully orchestrated this play environment and is completely immersed in his imagination. Checkers are people, the empty snack bowl (crumbs included) is a boat, everyone is sailing across a mighty ocean that was very recently your child’s blanket “lovie”. You think to yourself “Wow, that’s impressive, I would never have thought of that!”
Your child’s play is critically important for his or her learning and development. Young children’s brains are rapidly growing and brain development is dependent upon high quality play opportunities. Children need to explore a variety of experiences and be encouraged to fully engage in their play. This doesn’t mean that you need to buy a lot of expensive toys. You want a variety of toys that can be used in multiple ways. More important is that children need freedom of movement. Sometimes, we are tempted to leave our young children in a stroller, highchair, or a pack-and-play (especially if they seem content being there) because it’s easier to keep our eye on them but this may limit their potential for play. So, get your child out of that seat even if she might get into a bit of trouble! Another great way to stimulate play (and the brain!) is to encourage children to play with your safe household objects. It’s tempting to turn on the television or give your child a tablet or smart phone for 25 minutes to entertain them while you cook dinner but your child will be better stimulated if you allowed some of your pots and pans to become rockets and fairy houses.
So, next time you walk in on your child engaged in some serious play, take a few minutes to sit down and carefully observe your child. What do they get excited about? What do they do when things don’t work as expected? Join in but let them lead the play. You can do some parallel play (if your child is stacking blocks, you can stack some blocks too) and see how your child responds. In paying attention to how your child plays, you will learn a lot about how play contributes to your child’s development.
Amanda Williford, PhD
Research Associate Professor
CASTL, Curry, UVA
· Your child’s brain development depends on high quality play opportunities!
· Take time to play with your child.
· You will learn a lot about your child by paying attention to how your child plays.