Children learn during playtime. They have vivid imaginations. All it takes is space, time, and toys to begin building skills. With play mates, children can build even more skills such as socialization and language. As a caregiver, you have the privilege to observe and listen to the learning going on around you. As children learn during playtime, you can add to the experiences by prompting them to talk or adding challenging questions.
Most four and five year-old children role play. During a recent visit to a preschool classroom, I saw three children wearing firefighter hats as they pushed their fire trucks along the carpeted area. They were giving out orders as if to put out a real fire. Think about the development that was going on – physical, social, language, and emotional. Think about the many ways to expand the learning such as a visit to a fire department, reading a book about a fire fighter or inviting a fire fighter to visit the school or center. Think of questions that you could ask that group of children. “Why do fire fighter’s wear a helmet? Why do they have to take a hose pipe into a burning building?”
I was told by two young girls, “we are hair cutters,” and I could see that the dolls had capes hung around them for protection. Again, those children were building many skills through their play. At almost all the centers and Pre-K programs that I visit, I am encouraged to see children having long blocks of time for play. I encourage one hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon.
At around four-years-old, children’s imaginations collide with reality. Through play, they can create some detailed play scripts. A few months ago, a 4-year old overheard me telling a friend that I had purchased a coconut cake for my birthday. This information became the basis of a detailed birthday party that she imagined at my house. Her account of the party included the color of the napkins, the food that was served and the people who attended. Through their imaginations, children solve many problems. They act out things they cannot achieve in reality. Some children feel powerless, yet they have the ability to become superheros through their imaginations.
Play allows children to cope with difficult situations. I watched a young girl play doctor with her play mates and some baby dolls. This continued day after day. After doing a little research, I discovered that her mother had been very sick. Through play, she was coping with the illness. It was a therapeutic experience.
All the developmental domains are enhanced through play. See the link from NAEYC about play.
The caregiver’s role during play is to be a scribe. As children learn from play, keep good notes and dates about what you are observing. Write down the developmental areas that you see. You may overhear a child making a statement about the color of his truck or the number of blocks that his friend has stacked. You may discover that another child has figured out that yellow and blue turns the paint green. It will be interesting to use play time as a lab.
Wanda Wyont, MA