It is no secret that we believe that play is the most important way that young children learn. Research has demonstrated time and time again that providing rich and varied play experiences for children definitively has been proven to boost children’s early learning (Kaplan 1978; Bergen 1998; Johnson, Christie & Yawkey, 1999, as cited in Honig, 2007). When we talk about the power of play we are not just referring to free play. There are multiple types of play and there certainly is an art in knowing how best to support a child’s playful learning process. As one of your child’s play partners, you may be wondering what your role is during your shared play experiences.
If you are a regular visitor to our Museum, you probably have noted many discoveries your child encounters during play in our seven neighborhoods of play and learning. For instance, do you remember the first time your child put a pompom in the Airways Jungle? What did he do? Most children delight in their discoveries and want to repeat or “test” their hypothesis over and over again. Sharing in your child’s discovery encourages him to keep exploring.
Whether playing at home or in the Museum, here are a few more supportive ways to facilitate your child’s learning through play:
Take time to watch and listen. Before joining your child’s play with your words or actions, take time to observe how he is playing and experimenting. Not only will you delight in your child’s discoveries, you will also find that observing is a great way to get to know your child’s interests and gain an understanding about what he is learning. You may be surprised at how competent your child is when you focus on what he is doing.
Say what you see. Instead of acknowledging with the phrase “good job,” give your child specific feedback about what she did or what happened. Acknowledgement can be a gesture, facial expression, or verbal feedback. Remember your child’s discovery of what water can do? Here are some phrases you might say that show you notice your child’s discoveries. “You did it!” “Wow, look at that! The water made the wheel turn!” Extend Play.
Offering other materials or modeling a new skill based on your child’s interests is a way to initiate interaction and suggest additional possibilities, extending your child’s learning while he continues to play. For instance, when your child notices the water wheel turn when he pours water on it, offer a larger container. Does the wheel move faster with a larger volume of water being poured over it? Play and learn alongside of your child. Our children are always watching us. When they see you making new discoveries, you are sharing a valuable lesson, that is, learning is a lifelong process.
Most importantly, remember to have fun and enjoy the memories!
“Play, Ten Power Boosts for Children’s Early Learning” (Honig, 2007).