By KATHY SMITH
Play is the key to every child’s well being. Children learn about the world and experience life through play. One definition of play is “the spontaneous activity of children.” Through play, children practice the roles they will play later in life.
Play has many functions. It increases peer relationships, releases tensions, advances intellectual development, increases exploration and increases chances of children speaking and interacting with each other.
Infant play – birth to 2 years
Sensory motor play is typical play behavior for children up to age 2.
Children begin by selecting objects that give them a response, such as toys that make noise or bounce. These toys receive approval of smiles and giggles from infants. In turn, adults make sure the child’s toy selection includes one that stimulates their senses and enhances their motor skill development.
Between the first and second year, children begin to understand the meaning of objects. The child begins to incorporate this new knowledge into play, but often in a humorous manner. The child will call animals by different names. For example, a child may say a coy says “oink-oink.” The child will also pretend objects are used for other purposes such as using a banana for a phone. This is the beginning of dramatic play.
Toddler play – ages 2 to 4
Children begin making the transition to toddlerhood around the age of tow.
By this age they realize one thing can stand for another. By processing this knowledge, toddlers are able to imitate or imagine events in ways they do not exist. Through this fantasy play, children can examine events and relationships in ways that are different from the original intent.
For example, 3 and 4 year olds understand a sponge is really a sponge. They can also pretend it is a boat skiing across the lake or a basketball sliding through the net.
Early school ages – ages 4 to 6
Children in preschool and early elementary grades continue to use fantasy play. They also begin to show interest in group play. Group play is more structured and is based more on reality that fantasy.
Group play usually involves a few rules. The rules allow the child to begin developing independence yet cooperation with partners. Often early school-age games allow children to change roles frequently so they begin to experience many perspectives.
This less-structured group play provides a transition between fantasy play and more structured team supports which begin in elementary grades.
Examples of group play games include hide and seek, red rover, and ring around the rosy.
Learning to play with children requires adults to have a willingness to think and act like a child. Often as adults we get involved with work, family and persona responsibility and forget the spontaneity of child hood.
Allow yourself to be creative and get dirty. Often the child will take the lead and assign the adult a role to play.
Many resource books are available on play. Look for books that provide hands on activities as well as theory based information. Sources include libraries, teacher supplies stores, garage sales, child care providers and extension offices.
Kathy Smith is a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for Parker County. Contact her at (817) 598-6168 or firstname.lastname@example.org.