THE IMPORTANCE OF PLAY
From an Adult Viewpoint….
It often seems that all children do is play! They play until they are five or six, then they go off to school and start to learn. They play until they are big enough to really begin to do things. So it seems to grown-ups.
From a Child’s Viewpoint….
Play takes on a very different meaning. Play to a child IS learning! They learn to play and play to learn. Play is terribly important to a child. It is not a distraction. It’s not something they do to take up time. It’s the child’s life.
At birth the infant is a pioneer setting forth to explore a very new and very strange place. She does not know how the world works. She does not know that when you drop something it goes down, that balls roll, or that things far away look smaller than they really are. Infants are born beginners in life. They have to set about learning everything! And learning everything about everything!!
Not only does the newborn not know these worldly things, she doesn’t know that she can learn to do the things she needs to do to get along in the world. She doesn’t know that she can learn to turn over, sit up, walk, feed herself, dress herself, ride a bike, be a friend, or even talk.
But she does learn all these things – and she learns them in the four or five years before she goes to school.
We know that the young child learns more sheer practical knowledge during the early years than at any other time in life. In these early years, the young child is finding out what the world is like. She is exploring her abilities to cope with it.
FROM BIRTH TO….
The young child sets out to meet her needs, to explore and do. At birth her five senses are working. At first she has little muscular control over her body. By the end of the first year she has begun to coordinate the use of her eyes and hands and will soon be able to go everywhere on her own two feet.
The young child is curious, and that curiosity is never satisfied. She throws herself into the business of learning. Through her experiences with things, she learns the nature of common materials. She works at doing simple things. She “tries out” and “tries on” much of what she sees and hears in make-believe play. She makes the learning a part of herself.
By the time a child is five or so years old, if all has gone well, she is on first-person, first-hand terms with her immediate surroundings. She knows what common things are like, what they will do, and what she can do with them. She has learned these lessons in the best possible way – through play.
PLAY IS FUN
It is also vitally important. She must learn if she is to grow and thrive.
Young children do not learn in the same manner as older children do. Young children learn by actual contact with real objects, events, and people. (That’s why field trips, outdoor play, and other exciting activities are so important.)
A child learns by involving himself, all of himself, in exploring, discovering, repeating, and by continually adapting what he sees into his daily life. He learns to talk by learning the name of the object he holds in his hand, and describing the activity he is engaged in.
The young child is not yet prepared to learn by words alone. The child does not learn by explanations or descriptions of things that are far off in time or space. She is learning words, their uses and meaning in the situation at hand. Because the young child can repeat words so easily, it is easy to be fooled into thinking that she understands what she is talking about. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that the young child has grasped the meaning behind the words.
We need only try to read a page of words in a foreign language to realize that words alone do not have meanings. Someone once said that words are like empty cups. It is only through varied, first-person real life experience that words are filled with meaning for the young child.
The home, your child care home, affects the child, her play and her learning. For play to result in good learning, the child must first participate in the varied life going on around her, and then she must have a chance to try out what she learned for herself.
YOUNG CHILDREN’S PLAY AND TOYS
“Let’s go play!” “What can we play?” “Come on out and play!” These are some of the familiar and frequent cries of children. It seems impossible to think about childhood or young children without also thinking about play. Play and playing are vital parts of children’s lives. For children, play is life itself.
Through play, children learn how to learn and how to do things. Play is learning, trying, being, and feeling. Children learn many things about themselves, others, and the world through play. They learn concepts, relationships, cause and effect, sizes, colors, textures, feelings, emotions, sensations, sounds, symbols, and language among other things.
Play is not something that children do just because they don’t have anything better to do. Play isn’t just taking up time or filling the endless hours of childhood with meaningless activities that keep kids from bothering adults.
TYPES OF PLAY
Children’s play behavior can be grouped into a few categories or types and is related to the materials and tools of play. These categories often overlap and are highly interrelated. Any given play behavior could fall into several play types. For example:
Quiet play is likely to be encouraged by picture books, bead-stringing, pegboards, puzzles, doll play, coloring with crayons, etc.
Creativity has a broad meaning and play of this nature includes many things, such as painting, drawing, problem solving, music, dancing, getting along with others, play dough, sand, collage, the use of imagination, etc.
Active play can be stimulated by the use of balls, slides, swings, push-pull toys, sand and water play, games, crates and blocks, riding tikes and bikes, running around, climbing trees, and the use of indoor materials like rhythm band, bean bag toss, “dress-up” clothes, cars and trucks, etc.
Play that requires more than one person, such as ball games, tag, see-saws, playing dolls or house, block building, some swings, hide and seek, etc.
Dramatic and creative play may also be called social play. In this type of play, children try out different kinds of life roles, occupations, and activities, such as firefighter, actor, actress, mother, dad, astronaut, dancer, singer, farmer, doctor, nurse, soldier, etc. This play may be done quietly or actively, alone or with others, such as playing with dolls or action figures.
Play that involves the use of hands, muscles, and eyes. It helps to develop coordination and a wide variety of skills. Playing with puzzles, crayons, painting, cutting with scissors, stringing beads, the use of tools, block building, dolls, and trucks are examples.
There is an almost endless variety of products and toys designed for children. Some of these products are good and some are harmful. But how do you know which is which? The main idea is to try to “pick the right toy for the right child at the right time.” Here are a few suggestions that you may find helpful.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SUITABLE TOYS
Ask yourself these questions:
ARE THEY SAFE?
There is no absolute safety against accident or injury, but reasonable precaution should be used. Toys should be selected with great care. Any toy can be unsafe if given to the wrong child, to a child at the wrong age, or when it is misused. A child’s safety depends upon the types of toys selected, the way they are maintained and the amount of safe handling taught and practiced in the home.
ARE THEY DURABLE?
Toys are going to be used, mauled, hugged, dropped, thrown, stood on, chewed on, washed, dried, etc., so they need to stand up under normal wear and tear.
ARE THEY APPROPRIATE TO THE AGE OF THE CHILD?
A toy should be selected according to the unique and individual needs, abilities, physical, and emotional characteristics of the child. But, the child should be able to use the toy today! One doesn’t buy a twowheel bicycle for a toddler or a crib mobile for a schoolage child. Many toys should allow for growth, such as blocks, which can be used in many different ways over a long period of time.
DO THEY WORK?
Do they do what they are supposed to do? Nothing causes loss of interest as readily as a toy that fails to perform. It often results in frustration, anger, and discouragement .
DO THEY CAPTURE THE CHILD’S INTEREST?
One doesn’t have to coax, force or trick a child into playing with a good toy. The play is spontaneous. It should reflect the child’s, not the adult’s, interests. Toys which can be used for a variety of purposes keep the child’s interest longer than those with only one use.
ARE THEY FUN?
That is, are they fun from the child’s point of view? Are they for enjoyment now? Can they be used at various ages?
DO THEY STIMULATE CREATIVE ACTIVITY?
Can the toys offer problem-solving opportunities? Do they leave room for imagination? Imagination isn’t only concerned with unreal things, but also with reality, and it involves planning, ideas, and creating. Do they teach new skills?
DO THEY INVOLVE INTERACTION WITH OTHERS?
Must the child play alone with the toys or can others such as peers, siblings or adults be involved too?
CAN THEY BE KEPT CLEAN EASILY?
Rag dolls, animals and the like should be the kind which can be washed or scrubbed, or at least have removable clothes which should be laundered often.
ARE THEY ARTISTIC IN COLOR, FORM, AND EXPRESSION?
Avoid ugly or grotesque figures and toys that make harsh, jangling noises.
CHARACTERISTICS OF UNSUITABLE TOYS
Ask yourself these questions:
ARE THEY UNSAFE?
Unsafe toys have one or more of these characteristics: sharp corners, edges, and protrusions; shoot objects; are flammable; have easily lost or broken parts; toxic paint; are poorly constructed; might give an electrical shock; use glass instead of plastic in toy car, truck, or airplane windows, etc.; have detachable parts, like button eyes, that can be put into mouth, ears, nose; have fluffy trimmings that can be pulled or torn off and put into the mouth; are stuffed with toxic or non-hygienic material.
DO THEY OFFER LITTLE OR NO CHANCE OF INTERACTION?
Wind-up or automated toys are a good example. They are poor toys because the child cannot direct the action. Wind-up or automated toys have a life of their own. They go through the same tricks or movements over and over again. Plus, they are often complicated, delicate, easily broken, unrepairable, dangerous, expensive and tend to foster spectator behavior rather than participation and activity.
ARE THEY TOO MATURE FOR A CERTAIN CHILD?
DO THEY APPEAR TO CONTRIBUTE TO MISBEHAVIOR, STIMULATE TOO MUCH EXCITEMENT, AGGRESSION, OR DANGEROUS PLAY?
DO THEY FOSTER VALUES YOU AND THE CHILDREN’S PARENTS DO NOT UPHOLD?
DO THEY CAUSE ANGER AND/OR FRUSTRATION?
DO THEY COST TOO MUCH?
What should be done if a dangerous or unsafe toy is found on the store shelf ? It seems logical that no one would intentionally buy and give to a child a dangerous or unsafe toy. Yet it happens because unsafe and dangerous toys and products still appear in stores.
Here are a few suggestions on how to deal with that situation:
Don’t buy it.
Bring it to the attention of the store manager, in a straightforward manner. Make your ideas and opinions clear so the manager understands your point of view. You are a professional caregiver. Believe in yourself and your beliefs.
CHILDREN’S PLAY TOOLS: TOYS
Children of all ages play in many ways with an endless variety of “toys.” There is no all-inclusive list of toys or the ways that children play with them. One has only to watch a child at play to realize that well-chosen toys are important to early and healthy development.
Play materials may be divided into a number of groups:
TOYS FOR PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT :
wagon to steer and coast; brooms and shovels; small, but strong garden tools; balls; planks; jump ropes; scooters and tricycles; boxes, ladders, and boards; knock-out bench; and puzzles
TOYS FOR SENSE DEVELOPMENT (touching, hearing, seeing, smelling, or tasting):
water toys, bubble pipes, musical instruments, toy piano, xylophones, sand toys, pegboards, large wooden beads and string, puzzles
TOYS FOR CREATIVE WORK:
clay or crayons and paints, colored paper, children’s safety scissors, paste
TOYS FOR MAKE-BELIEVE AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT :
dolls with washable clothes, adult “dress-up” clothes, cars and airplanes, broom, sweeper, mop, dishes, play-store toys
TOYS TO BE USED FOR BUILDING:
blocks, boards, boxes
A SHORT COURSE ON PLAY AND PLAYTHINGS
adapted from Irene Lee
[The following information has been altered from its original format so that it can be distributed electronically. The original chart lists the SKILLS ASSOCIATED WITH PLAY, APPROPRIATE PLAYTHINGS, and WHAT CAREGIVERS CAN DO for each of the age levels.]
CHILD’S AGE LEVEL: 0 – 18 MONTHS
PERCEPTION: mobiles – hung over the crib about a foot from the baby’s eye level, small fish tank placed near the crib, posters – pasted on the ceiling or walls, music boxes, wind chimes, toy mirrors
MANIPULATION OF OBJECTS (mouth play and hand play): rattles, pounding and stacking toys, squeeze toys, teething toys, spoon in cup, floating tub toys, picture blocks, string of BIG beads, stuffed animals, balls
EXPLORATION (pushing buttons and pulling levers): crib-gym exercises, push-pull toys, small take-apart toys, pots and pans
SPACIAL RELATIONSHIPS, SHAPES AND SIZES: nested boxes or cups, blocks, large puzzles, plastic containers of different sizes
COGNITION: books with rhymes, pictures, jingles, records, musical and chime toys
LOCOMOTION: set of building blocks, large dolls, toys to crawl after, pounding toys
WHAT CAREGIVERS CAN DO
Be available to play.
Respond to baby’s sounds.
Smile at the baby. Let baby play with your fingers.
Talk with baby.
Play “pat-a-cake” and catch games.
Play “peek-a-boo,” “bye-bye,” and hiding games.
Make faces in a mirror.
Sing to baby.
Play at “losing” and finding things.
Name objects as you give them to the baby.
CHILD’S AGE LEVEL: 18 MONTHS – 3 YEARS
GROSS MOTOR: first tricycle, wagon to get into, rocking horse, large balls, outdoor play equipment, push-pull toys
FINE MOTOR: weaving sets, art materials, peg boards, clothes pins for tossing into an open pan, large balls, wheel barrows, sandbox toys, blocks of different shapes and sizes
EXPLORATION: sandbox, child-size play furniture, play appliances and utensils, handmade materials, doll furniture, large packing boxes for climbing in and out
SYMBOLIC REPRESENTATION: simple dress-up clothes, stuffed animals dolls, tea sets
PROBLEM SOLVING: various size boxes, simple puzzles, games, stringing large beads, take-apart toys with parts that snap together, construction toys that snap together
CREATIVITY: clay and modeling dough, blocks, large crayons, non-electric trains, blackboard and chalk, simple musical instruments, finger paints, safety scissors, paper and pencils
LANGUAGE: picture books, children’s magazines, tapes of stories
WHAT CAREGIVERS CAN DO
Pretend-play (create a traffic jam with a toy car).
Play tag, bounce, catch, and empty-fill games.
Hide things; “lose” things, and let children hide things from you.
Build something with blocks.
Play “guess what it is.”
Tell stories and let children supply missing words.
Reverse roles (you be the child; child be the caregiver).
Play guessing games.
Act out stories.
Let children imitate your activities (such as washing dishes and cleaning house).
Notice the child’s play and praise efforts.
Help children to classify objects.
Sing to children.
Go on field trips in the backyard.
Take children to library.
CHILD’S AGE LEVEL: 3 – 6 YEARS
SOCIAL AND INTELLECTUAL: additional dress-up outfits, bathing and feeding doll, puppets and theaters, store-keeping toys, toy phone and toy clock, playhouses, housekeeping toys, toy soldiers, dolls for dressing and undressing, large puzzles, outdoor play equipment, board games
PROBLEM SOLVING: farm, village, and other play sets, small trucks, cars, planes, and boats; beads, blocks, buttons, peg board, simple construction sets, housekeeping toys, trains, race car sets, balls
FORM AND SPACIAL RELATIONSHIPS: simple puzzles, set of plastic measuring cups, large tricycles, sleds, cookie cutters, wagons, scooters, swings, backyard gym sets and jungle gyms, empty cardboard boxes, seesaws, monkey bars, rope swings
CREATIVITY: crayons, children’s safety scissors, finger paints, clay, sketch pads, paste, rhythm instruments
LANGUAGE: story books, books on cassette tapes, radio, TV
WHAT CAREGIVERS CAN DO
Make-believe telephone conversations.
Improvise characters doing routine things.
Practice motor skills with card and board games.
Play games of courage.
Play “counting” and “number” games.
Provide children with the materials and environment needed for good, healthy play.
Mimic animals and people.
Use hand puppets with different voices.
Listen to and talk about dreams.
Tell “what-if’ stories.
Act out fairy tales.
Read to the children.
Teach children to identify different sizes and shapes with cookie cutters and baking pans.
Play “matching” games.
Describe activities that are taking place while you are doing household chores.
Encourage children to create stories while looking through books and magazines.
CHILD’S AGE LEVEL: 6 – 9 YEARS
SOCIAL: board games, tabletop sport games, organized sports, hobby kits, kites, balls, skates, bikes
INTELLECTUAL: dolls, toy typewriter, printing set, racing car, construction sets, science and craft kits, handicrafts, sports and hobbies, books, tapes, puzzles
SPACIAL RELATIONSHIPS (moving confidently through space): large bicycles, ice and roller skates, pogo stick, scooter
CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING: costumes, doll houses, play villages, miniature people and vehicles, magic sets, art materials
WHAT CAREGIVERS CAN DO
Be observant of children’s play.
Ask “What did it look like?” and “What did it feel like?”
Play make-believe games.
Play competitively at games and play situations.
Improvise imaginary characters and play situations.
Play theater and puppet dramas.
Encourage creative writing and poetry.
Play work games.
Attach names to objects.
Play sandlot sports.
Tell jokes and riddles.
Read to the children.
Let the children read to you.
Help children to organize and clarify things.
Take children to the library.
CHILD’S AGE LEVEL: 9 – 12 Years
PHYSICAL AND INTELLECTUAL: model kits, crafts, bicycles, rubber horseshoes, pogo sticks, ice and roller skates, grooming and housekeeping toys, rope, ladders, stilts, rackets, chemistry and other science kits, frisbees, magic sets, advanced construction sets and handicraft kits, toy models, puzzles, basketball equipment, building sets, jigsaw puzzles, books, tool benches, computers
SOCIAL: card and board games, checkers and chess, table tennis and billiards, sport toys and games, bats, balls, team sports
CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING: puppets and marionettes, drawing sets, workshop tools, costumes, action and career dolls
EXPLORATION: compasses, magnifying glasses, microscopes and telescopes, magnets, bicycles
WHAT CAREGIVERS CAN DO
Play skill games.
Be a referee.
Teach magic tricks.
Indulge in nonsense.
Play vehicle games. Ride together on bicycles.
Jump rope together. Build things together. Improvise exaggerated characters.
Play guessing games.
Play make-believe, like going shopping or building something.
Encourage hobbies such as stamp, rock, or coin collecting.
Call attention to qualities, similarities, and differences.
Read to the children.
Do science projects.
Grow things – flowers, vegetables.