Our Preschool Play Program is very play based. Open play is available the whole class time, with group play activities presented throughout. While we don’t focus on academics, we have a firm belief that play provides a strong foundation for later academics. Here are a few ways:
- Challenges in Play Build a Sense of Industry– The more you can challenge kids to do something faster, build something taller, to problem solve together or think about something in a new way, the more they are having experiences at rising to meet challenges. As children meet challenges, they build an ‘I can do it’ or ‘I can try it’ attitude which is helpful later in the classroom.
- Pretend Play Builds Representational Thinking– It is a cognitive jump when children start using representation in play. This happens when they use the block as a ‘telephone,’ or the sidewalk as their ‘pool.’ Representational thinking happens most often during pretend play. It lays foundation for later symbol use and academic representation. This means the letter ‘B’ can more easily represent the sound ‘buh,’ and the number 3 can more easily represent three objects.
- Open Ended Toys Pull for More Flexible Use and Creative Problem Solving – Children playing with basic toys such as blocks, balls, art and craft supplies and dolls tend to use the toys in more flexible ways. Buy toys that do less, so the children will do more. This means, if you are buying a doll, buy the basic one rather than the one that talks or grows hair. When the doll has a given function, children play in a more narrow way; buy open ended. Flexible use of toys often includes more creative problem solving in play.
- Reading Aloud Daily Helps Build Successful Readers– Reading aloud with children to encourage a love of stories and books is one of the single most important factors in their eventual reading success.
- Social Problem Solving Practice Benefits Group Work – Much of elementary school work happens in groups. The more practice children have at solving social conflicts the better.
Downtime is truely unstructured, “go play” time. It’s suggested children have an hour of downtime a day through 10 years old. With the pace of life, downtime can be hard to come by. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Turn of the tv and computers – Screentime is anti-downtime. When children are in front of a screen, they are still being otherwise entertained. If the tv is just on the background, it’s a temptation. It can be helpful to set guidelines for screentime for the family and then really stick to it.
- Provide space – It may be setting up a play area with their favorite toys, a reading area with comfortable beanbags or a craft corner with supplies and a good size table. Think about the activities your child prefers and then create the space around them.
- Build downtime into the schedule – If you tend to overschedule, you may have to actually put this on the calendar. Block off the time they can be unproductive.
- Focus on true toys – It may be helpful to provide more basic, open-ended toys such as blocks, dolls, balls, craft supplies or a cardboard box. Once given, let children plan the play.
- Get them outside – Outside play provides trees, sticks, rocks, puddles and dirt. There’s also room for tag and throwing balls.
- A little boredom is good – Children who can’t entertain themselves and get bored easily when given downtime, likely just need more practice. Given space and time they will learn how to entertain themselves. Have patience, this is a good skill to develop.
Dear Dr. Rene,
My two-year-old daughter is happy, friendly and affectionate around adults, but, aside from a couple of her friends who recently moved away, she just does not seem to like other children at the moment! When I tell her that we are going somewhere to see her friend(s), she tells me that she wants just her and I to go. When we are in the company of other children, she gets upset if they come anywhere near her. While her friends want to hug, hold hands or play together, my daughter doesn’t really want anything to do with them. I stay at home with her, she does not go to school yet, but we do go to classes and meet up with friends on a regular basis. I’m hoping that this a quick passing phase, but was wondering if you have any advice on how I should handle this behavior.
I know it can be difficult to watch your child struggle as she learns to be social. I want to first latch on to that she is friendly and affectionate towards adults, and you mentioned her having a few friends that recently moved. These points highlight that she has the capacity for being social. That she’s even had one recognized friendship at this little age is a positive. I would try to figure out if there was something particular she liked about the friends that moved away and look for that in new playmates. While I wouldn’t force the hand holding or hugs, I would continue to give lots of opportunities for play with her same age peers. Attend playgroups or gym classes, go to the playgrounds and take group swim lessons. Continue to model being social by greeting others, inviting them to join you at activities and talking about concepts like taking turn and sharing. Occasionally, host others for play at your house so she can have practice at being social in more comfortable surroundings.
Many two year olds still tend to engage in parallel play, playing near other children more than with them. By three to four years old, most of them move to more interactive play. It may be that she is simply still at parallel play. She may prefer adults as they lead play easily and offer good ideas. Adults are also more reciprocal than other two year olds with turntaking and sharing and less likely to provide conflicts. It may be helpful to try playdates with a few slightly older children in the neighborhood.
When she does request to be just the two of you, agree when that was already the plan. If it wasn’t, validate her request by saying something like, “I know you want it to be just mommy, but today we are meeting Johnny and his mom at the park.” I wouldn’t ignore her request, hear her first. Then calmly let her know the plan. I would think this will be a passing phase, but it’s something to keep in mind moving forward. I am hopeful for you both that she will find same-age friends easily when a good match presents itself.
You might also read Just You and Me by McBratney and talk about how the gosling wanted to be alone with the big goose, but how nice it was they shared their space with the other animals who wanted out of the rain.