Learning Through Play - a Child's Job
By Jane K. Frobose
Colorado State University Extension
Family and Consumer Education
Denver County, February 2008
Play is fun for children. Play is the way children learn.
Through play, children learn about themselves, their environment, people and the world around them. As they play, children learn to solve problems and to get along with others. They enhance their creativity and develop leadership skills and healthy personalities. Play develops skills children need to learn to read and write. Play in early childhood is the best foundation for success in school.
As a child learns to reach, grasp, crawl, run, climb and balance, physical skills are developed. Dexterity develops when the child handles toys or other objects.
Language increases as a child plays and interacts with others. A baby's cooing games with parents evolve into the language skills of a child sharing stories. Learning to cooperate, negotiate, take turns and play by the rules are important interpersonal lifetime skills, all of which play fosters.
Positive play experiences develop positive emotional well-being. Through play and imagination, a child can fulfill wishes and overcome fears of unpleasant experiences. Play helps the child master the environment. When children feel secure, safe, successful and capable, they acquire important components of positive emotional health. Sharing play experiences also can create strong bonds between parent and child.
Parents are their child's first playmates. Here are some guidelines for playing with your child:
- Interact - the richest play takes place when the adult takes an active role and plays along side the child, rather than just providing toys or supervision.
- Observe - watch your child closely to determine skill level and favorite activities.
- Follow - join in at the child's level. Let your child be in control and determine the direction of play.
- Be creative - Rediscover the child within yourself. Set aside restricting adult norms. Use toys creatively.
- Have Fun - Playing should be fun for everyone -- not frustrating. Do not use the time to test or stretch the child's skills beyond capabilities.
- Children are thinkers. Parents or caregivers can pose age-appropriate problems and challenges to children to help them think of as many different solutions as possible. It is important to know your child so well that you can match problems to the child's abilities and interests.
- Age and ability level. Play activities should fit the child. They should be a bit difficult, but not so difficult as to overwhelm or frustrate the child. Not all children, even at the same age, think at the same level and not all children have the same interests.
Toys are the props of play. Parents should consider the following questions when choosing toys for their children.
- Does this toy respond and adapt to the interests and needs of my child?
- Does it invite my child to explore and to become involved with it?
- Does it respond to my child's natural curiosity and whimsical nature?
- Is it unstructured, allowing my child to decide how best it should be used? There should be no right or wrong way to play with a toy.
Toys should challenge a child's interests and abilities. They should match skill and maturity levels. With the right toy, a child will be neither bored nor unduly frustrated.
Both solitary and social play is necessary for a child's development. A child can play with a building toy alone and in the process, develop independence, self-sufficiency and persistence. Playing with the same toy with others, the child acquires social skills such as sharing, empathy and cooperation. Quality materials, fine workmanship and simplicity of design will assure that a toy will withstand the rigors of children's play.
Safety is the most important consideration when selecting toys. Use the following guidelines:
- Use recommended age labeling as a guide and look for warnings and other safety messages on toy packaging.
- Consider the home environment and the ages of other, particularly younger children in the home. A toy intended for an older child may be unsuitable and possibly dangerous in the hands of a younger child.
- Be especially careful when selecting toys for children younger than three. Avoid toys with small parts that could be swallowed or inhaled including small balls and un-inflated balloons and those with sharp points or rough edges.
- Make sure that soft rattles, squeakers and teething toys, even in their most compressed state, are too large to fit completely in an infant's mouth.
- No matter how old a child is, if he or she is still mouthing objects, toys or pieces of toys should not be large enough to be swallowed or become lodged in the mouth or throat.
- Check for sturdy, well-sewn seams on stuffed animals and cloth dolls. Be certain that any decoration is fastened securely and cannot be pulled or bitten off.
- Look for the words "machine or surface washable" on stuffed and cloth toys. "UL Approved" (Underwriters Laboratories) should be on electrical toys.
- Purchase a toy storage chest that has a removable lid or a spring-loaded support allowing the lid to remain securely open. Check for smooth finished edges, proper air holes and hinge line clearance, the latter to prevent pinched fingers.
Protecting children from unsafe toys is everyone's responsibility. Careful toy selection and proper supervision of children at play is the best way to protect youngsters from toy-related injuries. Toys must be used, maintained and stored correctly to ensure that the safety built in at the factory continues in the home.
To obtain detailed information about toy selection and safety, contact the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, D.C. 20207. You also can call the toll-free hotline: 800-638-2772 or TDY: 800-638-8270. For internet access, check the web site at www.CPSC.gov Toy Safety Publications.
Revise 1-08. Jane K Frobose Review: A. Bruce, CSU Extension Specialist, Child Development/Parenting Specialist
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Updated Friday, April 19, 2013