As an Early Childhood Educator for 18 years, I can tell you that many parents and even providers, do not fully understand the concept of learning through play. Frequently when parents enroll their children, they will proudly exclaim that their child knows all their letters, can count to 10 and knows their colors. All too often, they think their child is above average because of this knowledge.
Here’s the nitty gritty: Your child DOES NOT know their letters because they can sing the alphabet song. They have demonstrated that they can learn by repetition and can mimic. These are very important skills, but they do not know their letters. How do I know this? We give assessments to all children to see where they are. When we assess their knowledge of letter recognition, the letters and in random order. Most children can identify the first letter of their own name, but usually not any more.
Parents often have fears if their child is not writing their names, counting to 100 or recognizing sight words. I am hear to tell you that it is NOT developmentally appropriate for those things! All of those things will come in time. Learning through play is children’s work!
Three and Four year olds having homework, sight words and worksheets is not appropriate for their age. Children develop at different rates. Some may begin writing their name, recognizing words and count higher than their peers. This same child may struggle to initiate play, cooperate with others or understand social cues. Children do not necessarily develop all skills at the same rate. Some may come quicker, while others take a little extra time. That’s OK!!! Not all children are the same. Learning through play works for all children regardless of their development. It meets them where they are.
Stages of Play
There are 6 stages of play that children will enter into: Unoccupied, solitary, onlooker, parallel, associative and cooperative play. Children experience these stages based on their development. Each child develops at their own rate, so just enjoy where they are.
Unoccupied Play: A child will observe others playing, but do not join in. Children who are shy may exhibit unoccupied play until they are more comfortable in the environment.
Solitary Play: This is most common in children under three years of age. Children will play and focus on their own activity. They are unaware and uninterested in other children and their activities.
Onlooker Play: Most frequently seen in 2-3 year olds, children will watch other children play, but do not engage. At times, they may talk about the play occurring, but do not join in.
Parallel Play: Children 2 1/2 – 4 years of age may play separately, but near their peers. They may mimic others actions and can be the start of more complex and social play.
Associative Play: This play is generally seen in 3-4 year olds. They show interest in playing with others, but the activity is not organized or coordinated.
Cooperative Play: Ages 4 1/2- 6 years bring on more complex and orchestrated play. Children are interested in both their peers and the activity at hand. The activity is both organized and children have roles. This is the start of team work.
What stages of play have you observed in your child?
Types of Play
What types of play help children learn what? Here is a list!
Constructive: Building and creating. When children build with blocks, Legos, and other construction toys, this encourages visual-spatial, fine motor and math skills.
Physical: Active play that gets heart rates up for 10 minutes of longer. Supports mscle development, gross motor skills and exercise. This can be a trip to the playground, setting up an obstacle course and many other activities.
Expressive: Vital for creativity. Expressing feelings through art, music and writing. Children that have access to materials to create art or music instruments to create rhythm and songs can express creativity and learn about emotions. Older children can write stories, poems and songs to express feelings.
Competitive: Games. During game play, children learn rules, fairness and taking turns. They can build character as well by learning to be a gracious winner and a good loser. Children can learn to expand play by adding or changing rules to classic games.
Fantasy: Dramatic/pretend play. Imagination, thinking beyond their own world, creativity and problem solving are all skills children experience in dramatic/pretend play. Children can also build real life skills by acting out situations they may see or pretending to be in a community.
Digital: This is a pseudo-type of solitary play. There is no social interaction, but children gain skills to work with the technology driven world. There is a down side to this form of play. It can negatively impact social skills, such as no eye contact or attention.
Exploratory: Children explore materials and determine the function of those materials based on their own creativity. Loose parts and STEM activities are great exploratory play.
Manipulatives: Fine motor skills hard at work. Any play that involves using fingers to pinch. Puzzles, using tongs, holding pens, pencils or markers are all great versions of manipulative play.
Can you find ways to learn through these types of play?
Every Day Play
Look for ways to play in every day activities. Children can hep sort the laundry. Have them pick out all the green, blue, yellow, etc items. Use junk mail to be creative and make art. Learning through play doesn’t require new or expensive toys and materials. Look around and find ways to learn through play!