Play was a quintessential part of all our childhoods, yet as we get older, we can find it hard to recreate the same magic that we could as children. Play is an important occupation for your child, as it helps them develop many skills including communication, social skills, emotional understanding, literacy, problem solving and conflict resolution. Caregivers have an important role in supporting play development. By playing with your child, you can promote new ideas and activities, and provide a safe space for exploring new opportunities.
1. Know your child’s play skills
A great way to learn about your child’s play skills is to watch them! What do they like to do? And what do they find difficult? As your child’s play partner, your role is to support them to further their play skills by modelling new ideas and ways to do things, nurture their ideas, and help them to problem solve. Once you have an idea of what your child can and can’t do by themselves, you can begin to support and teach them how to be even better players. Look for the “just right challenge”- where your child is tested in their skills, but still able to be successful (even with a little bit of help). Not too easy, not too hard, just right!
2. Set up for success
Creating a safe, inviting area for play is a great step towards a successful play session. While play areas will look vastly different depending on the type of play, play skills of your child, and who is involved, there are some general tips that help in every situation.
• Reduce unnecessary clutter or toys- this may distract your child, and make it difficult to join them in play
• Allow them room to move- giving your child a space to move in and out of comfortably will help them take a break if and when they need it
• Consider lighting, sound, temperature etc- your child is going to find it much easier to engage in play for longer if they are comfortable
• Have toys and items ready- if your child is easily distracted or prefers to play alone, having everything ready to go can make their transition into play so much easier. Make sure you have enough materials, especially for children who are still learning to wait their turn and share
3. Follow their lead
When we talk about following a child’s lead, we usually think of imitating what they are doing. Other ways to follow your child’s lead include using your child’s interest to encourage them to join you in play, interpreting their actions and words, creating meaning or purpose out of what your child is doing, or joining in even when it looks like they don’t want you to (Hanen 1999).
4. Explore new ways of playing
Find yourself playing the same game over and over? If your child has a strong preference for a particular type of toy or game, you may find it hard to spark their interest in something different. You might need to get creative to encourage your child to branch out into new types of play. For example, if your child loves building with blocks, but has difficulty allowing others to join in, you might need to think bigger! Together you could use empty cereal boxes and toilet rolls to build a spaceship or cubbyhouse together. Same ideas, just done in a different way. Check out the different types of play you can explore with your child below:
• Physical (rough and tumble, tickles, movement e.g. chasey)
• Creative (painting, sensory play)
• Communicative (using words and gestures e.g. charades, jokes)
• Imaginative play (pretending with toys and objects, acting out experiences)
• Dramatic/fantasy (playing a role, make believe)
• Competitive (following rules, games eg UNO)
• Constructive (building eg Lego)
5. Use yourself
You are the greatest toy a child will ever need! You can use yourself as a part of the play, not only by joining in or becoming a character, but by using your face, body and voice. Play is a great time to teach new emotions by using over the top facial expressions or a dramatic tone of voice. You can also change your body position (for example laying down, crouching or becoming really tall) to attract your child’s attention. Being larger than life in play can help foster your child’s playfulness, making them a more accomplished and skilful player.
Written by Simone Ryan
Photo credit: Thiago Cerqueira from Unsplash