The Art of Playing
As a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist who has been “playing” for more than 36 years, I am never surprised when parents whisper to me that they do not know “how” to play with their child or that they feel “silly” playing.
There is often a feeling of failure that accompanies their whisper, as if they should already know what to do and how to do it. But, the truth is, the art of playing is not taught to parents. Instead, it is another set of parenting skills to be acquired. Yes, there are some lucky parents, who have retained their gift for playing, others who come by it more naturally or, like me, have been trained in the art of playing. It is true that my car, my home, and my office are filled with toys…lucky me!
Maria Montessori’s quote, “Play is the work of a child” is often spoken, but is sadly accompanied with a chuckle, as if play could actually be considered work. Let’s be clear, play is work and a child’s work is to play! Quality play (both free-undirected and purposeful) promotes the growth of each child’s development, including but not limited to their senses, fine and gross motor abilities, cognition, oral language, literacy, and social communication interaction. Recent studies further support the association between quality play and a child’s sustained attention, thinking, learning how to learn, and academic success. These skills are interwoven, build upon each other, and form the foundation for success on the playground, in the classroom, and later in the workplace.
Welcome to your child’s world of work, let the fun begin! Infants play through exploring with their senses, observing, imitating and interacting with their toys and those around them…think rattles, squeaky toys, mobiles, and textured books. Soon, your child is sitting up and handling toys that can be stacked; containers that can be filled and definitely emptied over and over again; early themed sets with animals which leads to making animal sounds; vehicle sounds for each car or truck (“honk”, “beep”); puzzles, sorting toys, and balls. Next, beginning around 18 to 24 months, constructive play (building) and dramatic play (pretend with scenarios) enter the picture and together solidify the gateway to symbolic play (representational)…lasting a child’s lifetime.
It is through constructive and dramatic play that each child’s early language becomes visible and allows us to see what and how they are thinking. Now is the time for building and pretending with various types of block, logs, gears, and other connecting sets; gathering the art supplies; finding the barn and zoo sets; locating the vehicles and drivers; feeding and dressing dolls or stuffed toys; playing dress-up; making music; gaining an assistant in the kitchen; playing & exploring outside, and on and on. Teach through modeling, but also follow your child’s lead. Let your shared constructive and dramatic play intermingle and create sequential story schemes.
Blink and your child turns five and board games appear in every size and shape.
Yes, you will play them over and over, but these games support skills which are essential for turn-taking, conversation, problem-solving, winning and losing, and peer interactions. Blink again, you have a tween…then a teen…but playing does not stop. It continues to evolve through extra-curricular activities, organized sports and yes, even electronic gaming, all which add value to your child’s development. So, relax, laugh, and most of all enjoy playing with your child.
As for me, when a parent asks their child what we do in our Speech-Language Pathology sessions, a favorite compliment is when the child says, “All we do is play.” And believe me, we work hard at playing!
Lori Savage Grayson, MMSc, CCC-SLP
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