As I watched my son in swimming lessons today, he was fascinated as he pushed the water over the edge of the pool and it dripped into the spaces between the tiles – a kind of drain. He made me think about the importance of play on learning. Children of all ages learn by playing. Younger children start the learning process by playing on the living room floor, in the sandbox or even in the bathroom. The learning ability grows for older children as their world expands to include building a tree house or some crazy go-carting using assorted backyard toys. Take a moment and think back to some of your favorite childhood memories. I guess those memories consisted of moments when you were engrossed in activity, marveling at the wonders of the world. Was it exploring the nearby stream? Watching the sticks and leaves float in the current? Or was it the result of building an extraordinary structure from blocks or Legos? Whatever it was, this free play opportunity provided lasting memories and educational opportunities.

There is growing evidence that these experiences are vital to the growth of children. A toy with the Parent’s Choice Award designation does not guarantee that it offers adequate development opportunities. Children learn problem-solving skills, social skills, self-regulation skills and self-confidence are acquired when children are engaged in unstructured play. Children who learn to play creatively will become adults capable of thinking for themselves and being creative in the workplace.

What this means for parents is that we need to allow our children to get dirty and mess. Their science or cooking experiments offer learning opportunities in physics and mathematics. When engaged with others, social skills and negotiation skills are acquired.

When shopping for baby gifts, we need to think about which toys will offer more opportunities for open, unstructured play. These items include blocks, Legos, dolls, disguises, and art supplies. See opportunities like time in the woods, a field or on a mound of earth as wonderful experiences to stimulate children’s curiosity.

As we approach the new year, I encourage all of us to find ways to increase our children’s opportunities to play in an open and unstructured way and to minimize structured activities, TV time and computer time.

Handcrafted by Artists

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Make With Love

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