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Playing with Preschoolers


Playing with your Preschooler: Learning the skills of child-led play

“A child’s natural language is not words, it’s play. It’s not until children are about ten-years-old that they can accurately tell us how they feel. Until then they will show it.” -Gary Landreth, PhD

How do preschoolers play? 
  • 24 months to 30 months- Young preschoolers start to show more of an interest in other children but have difficulty initiating play and have lots of trouble sharing. Young preschoolers use toys symbolically, often imitating what they’ve seen you do. With an increase in language, pretend play begins
  • 30 months to 3 years- As children turn three, they develop even more interest in other children. Language allows them to communicate with each other. Kids, at this age, make a big jump in their ability to pretend play because they can now use objects to represent something else. A whole new world of fantasy opens up
  •  3 years to 4 years- Cooperative play begins. Kids can make friends and start to play with each other. Dramatic play begins. Kids try on different social roles and pretend to be other people. This leads to the ability to see things for other people’s point of view, resulting in increased social skills and empathy.
How can you play with your preschooler to support her development?

CHILD-LED PLAY: is 20- 30 minutes of focused attention on your child’s play in which you get down on your child’s level and follow his/her lead. During child-led play, you refrain from asking questions, making suggestions and taking over for your child. Instead you provide a running commentary of what the child is doing and only become directly involved in your child’s play when you are invited.

Benefits: Child-led play strengthens the emotional bond between parents and kids. Kids then, become much more compliant in following parents directions and power struggles are less likely to occur. During child-led play, kids receive psychological messages from their parents that their ideas are valuable and that they can make worthwhile things happen, which boosts self-esteem.

UNSTRUCTURED PLAY: is time that you allow your child to explore his/her physical world independently. Your role in providing unstructured playtime for your child is to simply ensure that he/she has access to a variety of stimulating and SAFE objects.

Benefits: Helps children to learn about the physical world, helps them to relax, and leads to greater independence, creativity and self-initiative.


Story by GTA Contributer: M.E Picher, MA
Co-Founder and Creative Director of  Wholeplay

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