Play, at its best, is self-directed. As a result, children develop personal preferences while engaging in a variety of different types of play. Observing children engaged in spontaneous play allows us to learn what they like to do. Knowing this, we can provide opportunities and props that support and enrich their preferred play experiences and show that we’re paying attention and respecting their choices.
Because children develop at different paces and are drawn to different activities, kiddos of the same age display markedly different competencies even when all are developing within typical ranges. One 12 month old may be so fascinated by the different ways to open and close the fasteners on a lock box that he has no interest in walking. Another is on his feet happily exploring his environment from a new perspective.
The first child’s passion requires figuring out how the locks work and using his fingers and hands. Mastery incorporates cognitive, problem solving, and small motor skills, perhaps beyond developmental expectations. The second delights in having gotten the hang of walking and focuses on learning more ways to move his body. Mastery requires developing gross motor skills – balance, coordination, and strength. When learning anything new, our focus and concentration are on the task at hand. Mastery requires trial and error, repetition, and time to process what we’re learning. Once we’ve achieved one goal, we’re ready for another. Personal needs and preferences often dictate what we choose.
Through observation, we also learn what a child shies away from, and this gives us valuable insights too. Observing your child when she’s playing spontaneously is the best way to learn her play preferences. Take note of what she does most often and what toys or other objects she incorporates into her play.
Does she enjoy artistic pursuits, music, or dance? Fantasy? Imaginative Play? Is she drawn to activities that involve analytical thinking – sorting, classifying, categorizing? Does “puzzling” over spatial relationships intrigue her? What about building with blocks? Does she prefer fine motor activities or gross motor ones? Does she like sensory play?
Observing a child at play not only gives us insights into her preferences, but it also reminds us that play is essential. Children learn while playing. The more children engage in self-directed play, the more experiential learning they do. Kids naturally learn how to learn through play. So encourage children to play.
PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play