Helping Children and their Families as they navigate the education and healthcare systems.
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Patty's Blog

Thinking about Play in the World of Children

Blog 5

Play is one of the most important things you can do with your infant or child. The time spent playing together is fun but it also helps your child feel loved, happy and safe, it helps your child develop social skills, and your child will learn about the world about him/her and caring for the environment.

" Play is a child's work." Play is what helps children learn about their world and how they fit in. In addition it connects and refines pathways to a child's brain. There are so many types of play for infants such as, tummy time play, floor play, music and using boxes and toys. Play is necessary for babies. It improves their emotional, social, physical and cognitive growth..Music is soothing and calming and important to help settle 'fussy babies,' Holding, swaying and moving with your baby helps calm them anywhere. Three month olds are learning how to grab objects - playing with soft toys and soft rattles are important - they can begin to reach for objects and follow or track them, at 12 months cause and effect is developing - games like hide and seek are great. Infants learn about 'cause and effect'~ if a baby touches a ball what happens. Maybe it makes a noise…or if the ball is pushed …what will happen? Maybe it will roll. This kind of play encourages physical development.

From toddler play to school-age children ~ there are many kinds of play that don't require expensive toys. You can use dress-up old clothes, boxes, empty food boxes, and household items. There are many books written on how to use 'every-day items' for all types of play. Some of the books are free. Children should be exposed to outdoor play, gross and fine motor play, the use of appropriate art materials, music, pretend play including unstructured and structured play. If your child doesn't want to or enjoy play this is something to discuss with your pediatrician.

If anyone walks into a toddler or preschool program or a K-6 program, one sees projects about a child's community and the world around them. Play can be enhanced by using art supplies, blocks, everyday materials and incorporating them with items like scarves, containers, empty food boxes, and other items. Play gives children an opportunity to have fun, develop relationships, observe the world and learn while playing. I loved teaching young children in the 70's and 80's. Each day was new and exciting. My years as a teacher of very young children were filled with wonderful memories.

When I taught in the graduate school at The Bank Street School of Education, I always enjoyed that the classes were in the Bank Street's School for Children. I enjoyed seeing what the children were playing with and seeing the structures that the children built using blocks and everyday materials. It was great to observe. The children left signs up about what they built.

There is also play with a specific purpose so that children can work out their feelings. There is play therapy(with toys), medical play, sand tray play, water play, playing with rice and all sorts of fun materials but with a purpose that the therapist, educator or child life specialist is focusing on.

As a 'play-group' leader for my own children and their friends when they were very little, we always played with what we had and enjoyed ourselves. As a toddler and preschool teacher (both in general and special education classes) play was always the main emphasis. Sometimes we played merely to have fun and laugh - sometimes we played to learn how to be cooperative and share- sometimes we had paired group play and children were specifically encouraged to play with a child in the class and then I would ring a bell and they would move to the next activity encouraging children to play with different members of the class.

All of the programs that I worked in since the late 70's had housekeep corners, cooking areas, dress up corners, a riding area to develop gross motor skills, manipulative play to encourage fine motor skills and games that emphasized development not competition. We had medical corners to encourage medical play and familiarize children with pretend medical toys. Each child grew and blossomed when they were ready. Having a special education background I noticed when children were not developing appropriately.

I was part of a school for infants - preschoolers at North Shore University Hospital on Long Island where we taught in teams. The children were discussed each week among the team members. The team consisted of a special educator, a social worker, a language/speech therapist and a physical therapist. We met with the parents as needed. If we felt a child needed more we would discuss our observations with their parents.

Thinking about Play -- (my own thoughts)
* I remember taking a course in 'Floor Time' and thought after a few sessions that this was what all infant - preschool teachers did. Now there was a course in something that was such a natural way to meet children where they are.

* I remember visiting a hospital where children sometimes stayed for long periods of time - and when one of the staff took them outside it started to rain. One staff member was concerned that they had no raincoats. Need I say more - the children loved stepping in the puddles and jumping and playing…It was great fun. The staff member and I spoke about this experience for awhile.

* I remember one of my first meetings with parents of a three year old and they asked me 'what reading program I used.' I smiled gently and said we don't use a reading program at this age because we want the children to develop healthy and solid play skills.

* I remember being a child life specialist and we were doing a fun activity about floating and sinking. There are lots and lots of kits to buy about sinking and floating. Having taught science to preschoolers at a science museum, I knew as long as I could explain why some items float and some sank that we could use many types of items in the playroom. So we learned all about sinking and floating through play and the materials we had at hand.

* Most of all my thoughts were about my own children now in their 40's …who played and had fun, had gerbil clubs, played in the water, and went to parks. We didn't always having the 'state of the art toys' but we improvised and we all had fun…Along the way they also learned about the world we lived in and developed a strong sense of family as well as community.

So much as been written about play…self-directed play, play to have fun, play to learn skills and play for play's sake. These are my own personal thoughts always as a parent first and a professional second. Now I have grandchildren and we continue to play and have great times together. I know I am very lucky but we can all put play first even adults should have fun and play.