Despite its many benefits, statistics show that the amount of time children get to play has been declining for decades. Tightly structured family and school schedules, more parents working outside the home, fewer safe places to play, and rising media use and screen time are among the reasons. For example, research shows the average preschooler watches 4.5 hours of TV each day!
Learning is best fueled by tapping into a child’s natural urge to play, rather than just outside factors like test scores. As they actively engage with and joyfully discover their world, children gain 21st century skills that increasingly call for teamwork and innovation.
Imitate your baby’s coos and babbles and have back-and-forth “conversation” using your baby’s sounds as a prompt.
Show your baby interesting objects such as a brightly colored toy. Let her bring safe objects to her mouth to explore and experience new textures.
Place your baby in different positions so he can see the world from different angles.Give your baby opportunities to learn that her actions have effects—for example, when she drops a toy and it falls to the ground. Put a few toys within reach of your baby so he can take toys out and play with them.
When choosing childcare and preschools, look for those that include unstructured playtime. Playful learning, where children take the lead and follow their own curiosity, should be the main focus of high-quality early childhood education.
Give your child blocks, empty containers, wooden spoons, and puzzles. Simple and inexpensive objects are some of the best ways to support a child’s creativity. Remember, it is parents and caregivers’ presence and attention that enriches children―not fancy electronic gadgets.
Give your child opportunities to play with peers. This is a good age to try a parent-supervised playdate.Help your child explore her body through different movements—for example, walking, jumping, and standing on one leg.
Provide opportunities for make-believe play—for example, pretending to drink out of an empty cup or offering toys that enable pretend play.Read regularly to and with your child. Encourage pretend play based on these stories.
Sing songs and play rhythms so that your child can learn and join in the fun. Begin to introduce some age-appropriate games like Simon Says.
Limit screen time to healthy levels. Age-appropriate media can have benefits for older children, especially if you watch and play with them. But real time social interactions and play are much better for children than digital media for learning.
Encourage your child’s school to offer recess and playful learning approaches in addition to more structured learning approaches like reading, memorization and worksheets. In addition to boosting a child’s health and development, play helps to build the safe, stable and nurturing relationships that buffer against toxic stress and build social-emotional resilience. The mutual joy and one-on-one interaction that happens during play can manage the body’s stress response, according to the AAP. In one study, 3- to 4-year-old children, anxious about entering preschool, were two times more likely to feel less stressed when allowed to play for 15 minutes, compared to classmates who listened to a story.