We wrote a blog post called Parents Make the Best Playmates several years ago and it has always been one of our most popular topics. (You'll see the post in full below.) In these days when parents are being called upon to guide their children's learning at home, it's important to understand in the early years, play is the most powerful learning tool of all.
We'll dig deeper into the power of play over the next few weeks, but for now, rest assured. You don't need a degree in education. All you need to do is relax and play. Because even if you don't recognize it in the moment, your child is learning in so many ways...
Play is TANGIBLE and PHYSICAL. Kids are tangible, physical creatures. That's why they can't sit still.
Play is a WHOLE-CHILD EXPERIENCE, inviting the body, senses, emotions, imagination, and natural problem solving to the party. That's why she becomes so engrossed she doesn't even hear you calling to her.
PLAY BEGINS WITH THE CHILD, making the entire experience personal and relevant. That's why she puts on her tiara and goes out to the garden to make mud pies. It makes sense to her.
Play is how children learn to RELATE TO OTHERS. That's why it's important to make time for the two of you to play together each day.
Which brings us to today's topic. As important as play is, we've found some parents don't fully understand their role in the process. Take a look at our original blog post for a few ways you can become a better playmate to your child and have fun along the way...
PARENTS MAKE THE BEST PLAYMATES
All child development experts (including me) will tell you that one of the best things you can do for your child is to play with your child. But those same experts (including me) often lament that parents don’t always know HOW to play with their kids.
I have a theory about this. Adults sometimes struggle with “child’s play” because it is counter-intuitive to what’s expected of us in every other part of our lives. As adults, we’re expected to be strong, mature and in control at all times; responsible, efficient, effective, and results-oriented. Yet it is these exact qualities that make adults INEFFECTIVE as play partners to their children.
To help you understand what I mean, here are a few rules of thumb I prescribe for parents during playtime...
FOLLOW, DON’T LEAD. When it comes to play, your child is better at it than you are. Know your place and follow her lead (unless safety becomes an issue).
GET SHORTER. Whenever you can, bring yourself down to her level (both physically and emotionally). This is your time to see the world through her eyes.
KEEP IT POINTLESS. True play has no agenda – no rightness or wrongness to it. Whatever happens happens. Keeping playtime open and free is not only the best way to encourage your child's imagination, it's also the best way to help her learn naturally.
And no matter what, remember, playtime is for both of you, so relax and go for the ride!
THE OVER-UNDER JOURNEY!
Playing collaborative games equalizes the playing field for your child while giving you a perfect, kids-eye-view of life! Next time you have a few minutes, try taking an Over-Under Journey and you might just be amazed where the two of you end up!
1. Start by deciding where to go. You may want to go to a real place like the kitchen or you could think of grander, imaginative places like the Dinosaur Forest or the Princess Castle! (Wherever you decide to go, pick a physical location 10-15 feet away as your target for a game of 5-6 turns.) Let your child decide the destination and then follow her imaginative lead.
2. Next, decide who is "Over" and who is "Under." Again, let your child decide.
3. Using only your bodies and your imaginations, the "Over" player must travel each step of the journey by going over the other player. Likewise, the "Under" player must go under the other player.
Here’s a few ideas to get you started. Note: These ideas are written for parents but can easily be adjusted for children as well. But be sure to let your children make up their own over/under obstacles as much as possible.
- Go OVER THE HILL (stand tall and let your child climb all the way up you!)
- Go UNDER THE BRIDGE (form a bridge with your body or legs and let your child climb under)
- Go OVER THE TICKLE TIGER (lie down on your back and have your child climb over your tummy -- tickling as she goes!)
- GO UNDER GATE (lie on the floor and raise one leg in the air up and down. Have your child scoot through the gate.)
- Go OVER THE TEA POT (sit on the floor and form the shape of a tea pot. As your child climbs over you, whistle like a tea pot!
- Go UNDER THE PUDDLE (lie down on the floor tummy-side down. Have your child "swim" underneath you)
- GO OVER THE WORM (wiggle like a worm on the floor and have your child climb over you from head to toe)
- GO UNDER THE TUNNEL. (sit on the floor with your knees up and have your child climb through)
Have fun, and let me know how your journey went!