“Play is the young child's work.” —Dr. Maria Montessori
What Children Gain from Play
- Their large muscles and coordination through crawling, standing, walking, jumping, and climbing
- Their fine motor skills – the control of muscles in the fingers & hands
- Their language, imagination, and ability to communicate by making fun sounds, gestures, and faces.
- To be social, through the give and take of playful games. Early thinking, memory, and problem solving skills - including cause and effect and object permanence (knowing that things still exist even when you can’t see them).
- That life can be fun
- They are important, loved, and competent.
Still have your doubts? Read Child’s Play: It’s Not Just For Fun (PDF) from The Daily Parent, and learn exactly what young children learn from what activities. The play you do needs to be at their level. The Power of Play details what sort of play activities are right for each age up to three years. Also available in Spanish.
"How to Play" for Play-Challenged Adults
- Play when the child is ready.
- They should not be hungry or tired.
- Learn what their likes & dislikes are – he/she might love “flying,” but is frightened by loud music, etc.
- Expect them to be engaged for only a short time. - Watch for their signals that they are done playing, like crying, fussing, turning away.
Zero to Three has even more tips for Making the Most of Playtime. Learning on the Go from Born Learning is packed with great suggestions for turning common activities, both at home and out, into learning experiences for a young child.
It is important to support a young child’s interests. If they love trains, take them on a Caltrain ride. (Suggestion: Burlingame is a great destination. Washington Park, with a playground and bathrooms, is located just across the street from the train station.) If they are fascinated by garbage trucks, take them outside on garbage pick-up day to watch the trucks at work.
Be alert to events and activities in your neighborhood that will spark learning. Reinforce your experiences by reading books on the subject; and talking about them together and with other family members.
For Creative Play at Home
Stock your house or childcare site from this list of reading and writing play materials and keep the supplies where children have easy access to them. Until they reach preschool age they will need supervision when using them, but later can learn to play independently, especially if they can get out their own art and writing supplies. Expensive kits aren’t necessary – recycled paper, a collection of markers, crayons, and colored pencils, tape, glue sticks, a few stickers, and colored paper are enough.
Need ideas for projects and things to do? Take a look at these preschool activity books: for parents, and for child care providers.