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The Power of Play

Every new school year in August, when the very little children arrive for preschool, it’s always an eye opener for parents, because there is a vast crevasse between what teachers expect and what children are able to do.

Nature gives us guidelines for development many parents just don’t see. The first year of a child’s life is meant to teach safety. The child needs and wants to understand what feels safe, and who can be trusted. Life is small for a child, and his world should be cozy and uncomplicated.

At a year, nature throws in a complication…walking. As children delight in movement, they will spend this second year, age one to two, honing their body skills and learning what they can and can’t do. They spend most of their time climbing, falling, toddling, and running. It’s important for them to begin to put safety with kinesthetic play, and this is where parents play a new role. Parents who teach children what is safe and what isn’t have a huge advantage the next year, because the toddler will have learned what “no” means.

By age two, and the beginning of a child’s third year, the child has learned just exactly what his body will do and what he can do with it. Now it’s time to put that to use. It’s time to learn to dress including shoes and socks and coats and hats. It’s time to learn to sit at a table and eat politely with others. It’s time to talk and make conversation to understand that includes pronunciation of words and proper usage. It means to use the toilet, and that includes wiping, clothes management, flushing and washing hands. It means to take commands like “wait, no, stop, sit.” It means to go to bed when told, to play with toys in a constructive manner, and to understand that the word “no” is not a weapon but a loving reminder.

If children learn to manage their own bodies by the fourth year, or age three, the next step is to begin to listen for information, because a child discovers that there is more to this world than movement. He watches his parents talk, and he discovers that there are ideas, and he learns that communication matters, and he hungers for it like candy.

Most preschool teachers, especially those who have been teaching a while, will expect a three year old to be able to sit for a few minutes and be curious enough to listen to some things. When listening skills are no where to be seen by age three, the trained teacher will study the child to see where he or she is developmentally, and how much of the last year he or she needs to complete before preschool will make sense.

Constructive play is a big indicator of development. The four stages of building are 1, carrying the materials which usually begins by six months of age. 2, towers. Towers are a favorite beginning building activity, and children can usually manage to do this about age one. 3, snakes. Lining blocks, books, cans, toys, stuffed toys in a row is another favorite thing to do, and this usually happens just shortly after the mastery of towers. Stage 4 building is being able to join the tower with the snake. This usually happens before age two if children are given the tools and toys to work with.

Children who are exposed to blocks and building toys will begin to understand what creating means.They will enjoy beginning a project with an idea. They will work hard to complete the idea, and when they finish their project, they will have a great sense of accomplishment. The idea and accomplishment link are self esteem builders. So is cleaning up the project when it’s done. This is called early discipline.

Art is another indicator of development. Crayons, paint, colored paper and scissors are all things that can be managed by an emerging two year old turning three. Learning to use these materials help little hands grow strong and imaginations come alive.

Playing with other children is not as easy as it sounds. Most children play in tandem until late three or four and communication develops. A play kitchen or dress up encourages expression and communication skills through the drama a child experiences at home and brings with him to share. Good communication skills are honed by doing. A good preschool should dedicate a lot of play space to kitchen and dress up because this avenue of development is important to something a child will do all his life…communicate.

Never underestimate the power of play, the significance of toys, or the need for play. How to play is the most important concept a loving parent can teach a child, because play is something every human being seeks all their life. It’s the fun stuff we get to do when the work is done. We all learn more from the hours we engage with pleasurable activities, activities that have a point, activities that produce, activities that encourage other activities. more so than the drudgery that is put upon us in a demanding world  by mindlessness and unimaginative work.

Play with your child and teach him how. Talk with your child and teach him to respond. Build with your child and enjoy his accomplishments.