Why is play so important?
There are many important opportunities for learning by using play as a tool when interacting with children. In fact, my own intuition led me, both as a professional and a mom, to use play-based techniques to stimulate language and cognitive development in children.
Toys and games were always my go-to activities. When other speech-pathologists in my office were photocopying worksheets and sorting out their “stim-cards” (flash cards that stimulate speech sounds, vocabulary or language concepts) in preparation for a therapy session, I was hanging out in the toy closet and choosing to base my therapy session on Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head, or a baby doll with clothes, food and dishes. When other therapists were sitting at a kid’s table working with their clients, I was typically sitting or laying on the floor playing with mine. I still do this now in my private practice.
How do I do incorporate “therapy goals” into this approach?
It is always dynamic; I never know exactly what we are going to be doing, but I know what my client’s goals and targets are and I choose my toys based on the frequency of opportunities they will provide to use the child’s targets during play. For example: if my client is working on “she” and “he” I choose a toy that has characters of both genders, if we are working on location concepts I choose a toy that involves moving items in all kinds of directions and places, if we are working on the “s” sound I choose a toy that is filled with words that contain that sound. While we play, I model the child’s target(s) over and over, the child begins to imitate them, and we continue to play. The child barely even knows that he is learning.
I mentioned that it was also my intuition to interact with my own kids through play. When they were babies, toddlers and preschoolers our house was always a mess because we were either out at playgroups or at home playing with toys. So much so that I never got around to doing house chores. It has only been in recent years that playing with my kids has diminished – I account this to their ages, their use of technology, and their own reduction in playing with toys. It is also because of my own stress, fatigue and preference towards screens. We just don’t play enough anymore. (Unfortunately, the house is still a mess though.)
On Families.NAEYC.org there is an article titled “10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play” that listed some very important benefits of play which included: reducing anxiety and stress, promoting physical health, developing emotional regulation, and building self-esteem. Other benefits that I would include are: using their imagination, working on problem solving skills, developing social communication skills, building vocabulary, practicing early story-telling skills, bonding with others, and learning language concepts.
On PsychologyToday.com, in an article called “Why Play With a Child?” it stated: “Parent-child pretend and physical play is linked with the child’s competence, gross motor skills, peer group leadership, and cognitive development”. To pull this all together I found a quote in another article on the same site called “The Value of Play I: The Definition of Play Gives Insights” it summed up the benefits of play in this paragraph:
“Play in our species serves many valuable purposes. It is a means by which children develop their physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and moral capacities. It is a means of creating and preserving friendships. It also provides a state of mind that, in adults as well as children, is uniquely suited for high-level reasoning, insightful problem solving, and all sorts of creative endeavors.”
So now that you know how beneficial play is for you and your child, you want to know how to do it, right? “What do you mean how?” you may ask. Continue to Part Three – How do I Play With My Child? for more valuable insights.
Check out this awesome infographic for a few more benefits of play: