Play Matters – How to Learn Through Play

winter wonderland, riceplay, sensory play, creative play, waldorf inspired, wooden toys, learning through play, invitation to play, loose parts

Food for the soul

Play is food for the soul. Whatever childhood/ educational philosophy you follow, one thing they nearly all agree on is play matters. How the environment is set up, what resources you provide and in what way they are presented are the choices you make as parents. Do I think I’m making the right choices? Honestly, I haven’t a clue! I don’t think any of us can know with absolute certainty that we’re doing everything right. Although, by carefully observing and listening to our children we can help guide them, support them and nurture them on the path they are showing us. Their contentment and happiness show us when we’re going in the right direction. What works for one child and what one child enjoys, may not always work for your child. So, keep trying, make adjustments and watch them grow.

Our daughter, Floss often takes a little time to come round after having a nap, because of this I try very hard to avoid us having to rush out of the house as this can be quite unsettling for her. I usually have a play scene such as this one set up for after her nap to help her transition gently into the afternoon. Floss has a choice on whether to explore the play tray or get on with other play in the house; she always chooses the tray! I love watching her eyes light up and hear her ooohs and wows when she finds the new scene.

winter wonderland, riceplay, sensory play, creative play, waldorf inspired, wooden toys, learning through play, invitation to play, loose partswinter wonderland, riceplay, sensory play, creative play, waldorf inspired, wooden toys, learning through play, invitation to play, loose parts

What resources?

While Floss naps I usually work, so it’s important to me that what I set up can be done quickly in a couple of minutes. I have little tubs of resources ready to be used to help speed things up. So, why did I choose these resources? We’d been reading books about Winter together and therefore I wanted to reflect a more wintry theme for this play tray as Floss had been fascinated by the winter scenes. She’s also enjoyed using new verbs such as pouring, mixing, beating etc. from cooking together. Numbers are also in her vocabulary throughout the day and she enjoys opportunities to count. With this in mind I gathered resources from the stash, small world animals, utensils for filling and emptying and a couple of number resources.

Feeding the senses is what I hope to do. Not all senses are covered in each invitation to play, but I try to be mindful of them as I plan. Here there are several different materials to observe and feel: metal, wood, plastic, glass, fabric and natural grains; each material making a different sound as it is used. The small world animals are different sizes and styles to be able to look at similarities and differences and use comparative language. Different containers give different noises when scooping and pouring from and to each other.

What do I do?

I often get asked what I do while Floss is exploring and my answer is, it depends what she wants me to do. Floss is only two, so with some resources such as the rice I make sure my attention is focused on her to ensure she is safe. If I know I need to make a call or prepare food then I’d choose resources that mean my focus doesn’t need to be completely on Floss.

Initially, Floss usually wants to explore on her own with me in the room. Sometimes she’ll happily play while I read or potter around but more often than not she doesn’t want me to join in with her play to start. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t want me there, she needs me there ‘holding the space’. Holding the space is more than just being present. It’s about consciously being there for your child. Have you ever seen your child playing happily in front of you, you go to get on with something else (as they obviously don’t need you), to suddenly find that the spell is broken and they’re calling for you or following you. Just by being there your presence had given security and contentment to continue in their play.

Other times she’ll speak or gesture for me to join in her play. I follow her lead, replicate her play, narrate what she is doing and extend her sentences. Both observing and interacting with her play give me opportunities to reflect on what she needs from her environment and from me. It’s these times when my brain starts whirring with ideas for new trays and adjustments to the landscape of our home.

Am I doing it right?

Maybe, sometimes, yes, not always! That’s my honest answer. I’m human, I don’t always get it right, but here’s what I’ve learnt. If an activity takes you longer to set up than your child takes to play with it, then it probably wasn’t the right activity for them at that time. Finding the right level of intrinsic challenge takes practise and careful observation. If an activity isn’t challenging enough then a child can become easily bored, too much challenge can lead to frustration or an over reliance on an adult for support.

Don’t take it personally if they’re not excited by a new toy or set up. You don’t have to have a sensory tray or any other prepared activity. Developmentally appropriate toys for self selection, especially loose parts to encourage imaginative play allow children to choose the direction of their play. You’ll know if they’re the right toys as they’ll be played with!

winter wonderland, riceplay, sensory play, creative play, waldorf inspired, wooden toys, learning through play, invitation to play, loose parts

Top Tip for messy play – I use the tray inside a tuff tray. It makes tidying up much easier!

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