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  • The Only 3 Things to Remember During Playtime to Make Sure Your Child Is Learning

    An early childhood development expert shares the ways we can teach kids through play and toys.
The Only 3 Things to Remember During Playtime to Make Sure Your Child Is Learning
PHOTO BY ake1150sb/iStock
  • David Elkind, child psychologist and author of books like The Power of Play and The Hurried Child said, “Play is not only our creative drive, it’s a fundamental mode of learning.” And every day, young children absorb and learn about the world around them in playtime, when they engage their senses, explore and manipulate objects, imitate and imagine, observe, and pretend.

    Teacher Lois Jomero, who has been teaching in the University of the Philippines for nine years, has done research in play and early childhood development and inclusive childhood education. She shares how parents play an essential role in encouraging their children to play.

    How to be a present parent when your child plays

    “In the child-centered play, the only real contribution we can make as parents or caregivers are invitations that we hope [the kids] would accept and opportunities we hope they would take,” Jomero explains.

    During playtime, parents should be “followers” and allow their child to be the “leader” who will initiate what he should do in the course of play. This way, the child can discover a lot about himself and the toys he uses.

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    Respond to your child’s invitation to play

    “Invitations could come in various forms, “ Jomero illustrates. “An invitation to observe comes when your child asks ‘Are you watching me? Are you there?’ This invitation is how a child ‘recharges his energy batteries.’  When he knows his parent or caregiver is present, he gets encouraged and energized and gains momentum and then goes back to his play.

    “When your child invites you to join him in play, this is his invitation to engage.  And this is the time to put away our mobile phones and give our child our focused attention.”

    Make opportunities for various forms of play

    Jomero says there are four key play ideas. Object play is when a child explores a toy or object. Motor play is when a child manipulates objects by moving it and makes use of his hands and fingers and more movement. You combine both forms of play when the parent and child catch and throw the ball or roll the ball on the floor.

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    Then there is pretend play when a child imitates and imagines and creates pretend scenes. It happens when the child offers the ball and tells his Mom or Dad that it’s a tasty fruit and offers it to his parent. Mom or Dad can respond by accepting the “fruit” and pretends to pick more “fruits” or slices the fruit. 

    Social play happens when the child creates a ‘game’ with his parent using the toy.  It can also happen when the parent engages the child to count the “fruits” they harvest or sing about the “fruit.”

    Whatever type of play you utilize, Jomero advises, “Allow your child to write and create anywhere at home.  Remember that more movement and manipulation mean there are more opportunities to learn. Imitating and imagining are venues for creative thinking, critical thinking, and problem-solving.”

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    Let your child use his toys the way he wants to even if it doesn’t function that way

    Jomero shared she chanced upon her mother happily laughing with her son one afternoon as they sat on the bed. The two were surrounded by a “fort” made out of pillows with her son holding up a rolled up piece of paper. Her son quickly approached her and shared that he and his Lola were busy in their “spaceship” looking for aliens to defeat using their telescope and blasters.

    Maye, a mother of two who double-majored in Education, shared she was able to maximize the use of a specific toy in her home by trying it out at different stages of her kids’ childhood.

    “We had a wooden stack-and-sort board that I first used to introduce color, and then as a tactile tool when my kids were babies. Then, as they turned closer to toddler years, we used this as a counting tool.

    “As school-aged kids, I used them as shape rulers to develop their writing skills in a more fun way.  Aside from the fact that I saved from buying multiple toys, I discovered that it made my child’s learning more relaxed because they were familiar with the toy.”

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    For actress and entrepreneur LJ Reyes, who is a mom to a big-school-age son and a baby daughter, she believes it’s always best to go back to the basics.

    “A small ball can occupy a child’s curiosity and imagination longer than you can expect,” she avers.  “I remember a time when we asked our son not to play with his toys for a while. When I got back to him, I found him with some torn tissue paper he made into something that I couldn’t figure out, and he was so busy playing! I realized that his imagination and creativity was something I should nurture!”

    With her baby, LJ narrates, “Since I am still establishing a routine with our baby, what I do is I give her a choice between two toys. And we stick to the toy that she chooses until she is ready to move on to another activity. I use child-led play for both my children.”

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    Here is a list of toys that can grow up with your child

    1. Matching games
    2. Counting toys
    3. Spinning gear toys
    4. Play-pretend toys like playing-house toys (with toy brooms or mops)
    5. Wooden toy abacus
    6. Word and number puzzles
    7. Shape sorters
    8. Easy-grip pens or crayons
    9. Wooden spelling peg toys
    10. Lift-flap puzzles and books
    11. Write-and-erase flash cards and boards
    12. Children’s hanging mobile
    13. Stacking and sorting boards
    14. Play mats

    As parents, we can allow for purposeful play to happen when we learn to step back and allow our children to lead and when we wait to “be invited” into their little worlds. Giving children the space to explore and make use of their toys other than the toys’ original use allow for creativity and imaginative play. Play is the work of a child. Let us all let them play.

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