The “P” in Dolphin Kids’ P.O.D. stands for PLAY! Why is play important? From learning problem-solving skills, to creative thinking, processing emotions and building resilience, play offers great opportunities for growth and parent-child bonding.
Children love to play and have an endless capacity for play. However, parents’ ability or willingness for play may not be as consistent. Sometimes, after a long day of work and chores, getting down on the floor to play dollhouse with your child or going outdoors for physically active game may seem exhausting. But the truth is, play does not have to last long and it can also be part of everyday life.
According to Dr. Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play, there are 7 different types of play that accomplishes different benefits. Here are its definitions and some tips to get your started:
Communication with your child happens all the time, and a large percentage of what we perceive in communication is non-verbal signals. Eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice and bodily gestures can be easily sensed by your child as to whether or not you are genuinely interested in them.
Attunement play is therefore the foundation of all forms of play and can be used in all kinds of interactions with your child. Respond to your child’s actions by mirroring her movements and expressions, make up a song or do a dance with the action. Enter into your child’s world and show that you are listening and understanding him/her.
Social play helps children establish social norms. Play with parents set the stage for children’s ability to successfully play with others. Strive for an even distribution of power — Be careful not to take over and give too many directions when playing with your child. Likewise, it is also important not to let your child boss you around. When we allow children to dominate us in play, to be inattentive to our needs and desires, we may, in fact, be turning them into spoiled brats. Cooperate with your child in play by sharing a common goal and having complementary roles, e.g., fixing a jigsaw puzzle, building a bridge with blocks, making art, baking/cooking together.
Imaginative and pretend play is where creativity begins. Playing the pirate, doctor or teacher — acting out stories which involve multiple perspectives and determining ideas and emotions, pretend play can help children to create their own sense of their mind, and that of others. If make-believe play is not something you feel comfortable doing, try talking to your child regularly explaining features about nature and social issues, or read to your child at bedtime instead.
Leaping in the air teaches us the effects of gravity. Dance teaches us the various ways that our bodies can move. Movement play helps us think spatially, and the physical exertion and effort to get a movement right fosters adaptability and resilience. Chase games, hide and seek, tickles, and rough-housing games make children laugh, scream and sweat — which can help release pent-up stress hormones that they would otherwise have to tantrum to discharge.
Object play allows children to explore the functions of objects and develop tools. By manipulating objects such as building blocks, puzzles, cars, dolls, etc., object play allows children to try out new combinations of actions, and may help develop problem solving skills. Sometimes, object play also involves pretend play, e.g., building a house or feeding a doll. Some household items can also serve as fun and interesting objects for play, as long as they are safe.
Besides improving children’s sense of well-being and self-identity, storytelling plays an essential role to children in understanding their environment. Through listening to stories, they learn to understand the differences to others’ feelings, culture, backgrounds, and experiences. When children can create their own stories, they also show better divergent thinking. Try coming up with a beginning of a story and let your child think and explore as much as they can. If they get stuck or repetitive, suggest one or two ideas on what can happen next.
Children start developing their creativity in role-playing and pretend play, and when they do, they are able to imagine new ways or ideas about doing things that can add function and progress to lives in future. When you are with your child, stimulate creative ideas by encouraging them to come up with new and unusual uses of everyday items, art materials or toys. Try to remain open and curious to new and original ideas, and encourage children to come up with more than one solution or answer.
Play offers connection, bonding, and co-operation. Opportunities for play can happen everyday with common daily activities. The quality of time spent with your child is the factor that makes a difference. As Lawrence J. Cohen, author of Playful Parenting puts it, you need to be “tuned in” to your child’s needs and wants. Give your child your full attention and follow their lead by letting them direct and control the pace of the play. Relax and have fun while being in the moment with them. Whether it’s baking cookies together, or washing a car, it’s the spirit of playfulness that we bring to daily activities that turns the mundane into play.