Despite the immense benefits that come to both children and parents through play, free play time has continued to decrease. Hurried lifestyles, family changes or stressors, screen time, and an increased focus on academics and enrichment activities, which often occur at the expense of recess or free child-centered play, are just some of the reasons attributed to a decrease in play. Engaging in play helps caregivers view the world from a child’s vantage point and build relationships. Even when provided the time and space, it sometimes seems that children have difficulty keeping themselves engaged in play. Read below for tips on how to support and encourage your child in play.
Some tips for supporting your child’s play:
Plan for play. Create indoor and outdoor environments that provide a wide range of play possibilities. Ensure that there are safe spaces your child can freely explore that contain preferred items, such as puzzles, crayons, building blocks, or clothes for dress up. Do your children have so many toys available to them that they don’t even know where to begin playing? Try putting some of the toys away in a closet and then rotating the toys out. Fewer available toys can be less overwhelming to a child, and the toys that are present may seem more appealing.
Model appropriate play. Children learn through imitation. Play is a way for children to play out what they are experiencing in the world and to make sense of it. Children are constantly watching and observing their caregivers. If functional play is appropriate, model how to build with blocks, push a train along a track, and play with cause-and-effect toys. If a child is displaying difficulty with pretend and imaginative play, model making a pretend meal to share, create a tea time, or pretend to be superheroes.
Provide guidance as needed. The parent role changes as the child grows and develops. If a task is overwhelming for a child, break it down into smaller, manageable parts and provide directions one at a time. Playing with children enables caregivers to learn more about their communication style and how to communicate more effectively with them. As a child’s play becomes more sophisticated, caregivers can begin to remove their input. Allow children to direct the play and follow their lead.
Keep age-appropriate expectations. Functional play with toys emerges around 12 months and includes playing with basic toys as they are intended to be played with, such as pushing a car. Simple pretend play, such as feeding a baby doll or playing with a kitchen set, often begins emerging around 18 months. Pretend and imaginative play continue to become more sophisticated and complex during the preschool years, such as playing house or school, in addition to being more socially-driven. In addition, consider age-appropriate attention spans and provide more direction or limit options in order to help your child stay engaged longer in play.
For more ideas on engaging with your child in play and tracking milestones, check out the resources and ideas at ZERO to THREE https://www.zerotothree.org/espanol/play.