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Learning through Play

Let's Play!

I have had several families with preschool children contact me with concerns that their children will be unprepared for Kindergarten next year because of the closing of schools. Many have turned to online learning programs designed specifically for the preK-K age group to enable continued learning. I love learning apps because they reinforce skills, often provide instant feedback on correctness and can get children excited about learning. Including time for children to go online and engage in education games is completely ok, but screen times for preschoolers should be no more than an hour or two total. Instead of screens, I encourage families to include time in their daily schedule for their children to play. Play is a valuable component of a child’s day and has the ability to develop cognitive skills, physical abilities, new vocabulary, social skills and literacy skills. 

When I talk about play, I am referencing unscripted, unstructured play. This type of play is open-ended, child-directed and provides multiple opportunities for learning. Play is not giving your child an electronic device to use. Play is your child choosing to use that electronic device as a grocery store scanner, a walkie-talkie on the quest to find treasure or a device for instantaneously freezing the yeti who just appeared in the living room. Play allows children to make choices, gives them some freedom and fosters independence. Through the process of play children also learn about flexibility of thinking and develop decision-making skills, all necessary skills in life, young or old.

Dramatic Play

Dramatic play is one way you can foster readiness skills for your preschooler and is not only fun, but easy to implement. I am confident that you have everything it takes to create a playful learning environment in your home. The best part of learning through dramatic play is that it can happen anywhere, can involve any type of props or play tools and is developmentally appropriate for preschoolers. When activities are in alignment with the developmental level of the child there is less frustration, engagement is higher and more learning occurs. Children have a natural impulse to play; this is how they learn about the world. And, play is fun!

Dramatic play is when children act out roles they have chosen and accepted. I am sure you have seen your child engage in play where they are pretending to be someone or something else. My son used to love being the “cooker man” and all he needed was a spatula and the ottoman (grill) in my family room. He would take orders, cook and deliver them to us. Dramatic play allows children to act out real life situations in a place that is safe. That said, with the major changes in lifestyle we are currently experiencing, dramatic play provides children with an avenue for expressing and a means for coping with their own feelings. Adults tend to cope with dramatic events by retelling them, often again and again. Children cope with dramatic events by acting them out.

Setting the Scene

Provide your child with opportunities to grow and learn through play. You can be as elaborate or simple as you desire. Is your child interested in rocket ships and outer space? Create a spaceship for them to blast-off in and have adventures. Involve your child in turning a corner of the room, under the kitchen table or other nook into outer space and use what you have to create the tools and objects needed for space travel. For example: paper bags can be turned into astronaut suits, old electronics like keyboards and phones become the command center, toys like interlocking gear sets or magnetic blocks can become mechanical components, and I am sure your preschooler will have lots of other ideas to add. I always encourage including literacy-building tools and it can be as simple as paper and crayons; have some books on space? Add those, too. There are endless possibilities for creating creative play spaces and as a preschool teacher I have found these to be among the favorites: shops and grocery stores, veterinarian office (everyone has stuffed animals, yes?), kitchen/home/restaurant, water/sand play, artist studio, dress up and construction play. And all of these activities can be easily transferred to outdoor play and incorporate big body play like running, tumbling and riding (away from the yeti). 

As parents, you are your child’s first teacher and greatest supporter of your child’s learning. You can promote their cognitive, language, physical, social and emotional development by allowing them enough time to play. In these risk-free environments, reality is suspended and children have the safety, security and confidence they need to experiment, try new ideas and investigate. Parents and other family members can step into the imaginary worlds of their preschooler and play alongside of them. This is a great opportunity for scaffolding learning or guiding your child to learn something new with just a little prompting or support from you. Scaffolding allows learners to reach a goal or outcome that is just above their reach; learning occurs with a little bit of help. For example, if your child is successful in counting moon rocks and you introduce the concept of addition by adding one more and recounting, you are scaffolding learning.

Opportunities for learning in the home environment are plentiful. I encourage you to explore what you already have and create some new education adventures for your child. Have children who are older than preschool or younger? Fabulous. Get them all involved. If you need assistance or have questions about learning through play, feel free to post them below the blog post or contact us. I look forward to hearing from you.

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