Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Our Future Depends on Play: Learning

Day two of the photo-a-day challenge from fatmumslim.com was "Busy."  I found my inspiration early yesterday morning:

I am often captivated by Jr.'s rapt attention in his play when he is figuring out something new.  Jr. was so busy playing and learning about these metal strainers, it reminded me of a post from my old blog about the importance of play.  I thought I'd share it with you today!  I wrote it when Jr. was about nine months old.  I was totally obsessed during that time with rushing home from work so that I could have time to play with him and watch him learn new things. 

Check it out!

I was so excited to see this video about the importance of play! As a momsie and a psychologist working with children, I am constantly reminded of the teaching and healing power of play. And, though I’m writing mostly of children’s need for play, it’s also important for adults! In a world full of deadlines and full schedules, we just don’t take enough time for play.

Watching my son play, I can see how much he learns about the world through play activity. He isn’t just dropping his blocks repeatedly to see if I’ll continue to pick them up, he’s learning about cause and effect - when he drops a block, it bangs on the ground (and mommy picks it up and says “uh-oh”). When he seeks out a toy that is hidden inside another, he is learning about object permanence - it is there even when he can’t see it. When he bites down on a toy or tries to “rip” his washcloth, he’s learning about texture and material.

Knowing that play is the main avenue for learning at his age, I struggle with finding the time to spend engaging him in play time. I know many working moms can relate to the feeling. You rush to the daycare to pick up the baby, rush home, rush to put on dinner, rush to feed and bathe the baby, and then rush to bedtime. Where’s the time for play?

I’m always tempted to put the baby in one of his stationary play centers (exersaucer, jumperoo), but he probably spends more than the recommended 20 minutes per day in one of those at daycare. Many babies play just fine on their own, and some autonomy in play should definitely be encouraged. But, play can be a great opportunity for bonding, modeling, and memory making! Here are my best suggestions:
  • Creatively take advantage of your time. When I’m cooking, I give my baby pots, pans, and spoons to bang and explore. When I’m folding laundry, I give him some items and the laundry basket (he loves the laundry basket!). When I’m getting dressed, we play peek-a-boo. Even if I’m only halfway attending, there is a sense of togetherness.
  • Carve out stay-at-home time just to engage in play. For me, weekends are important for catching up on playtime. I choose to only schedule one major activity (other than church) each weekend that takes us away from the house. That way we can dedicate some chunks of time to playing together.
  • Extend bathtime. Our baby absolutely loves bathtime. And, we can easily extend it a few minutes past the lathering and rinsing to play with squirty toys, cups, and even the shampoo bottle.
  • Say “no” less. This one is tricky. Sometimes, babies want to play with things that just don’t seem like appropriate toys (the remote!). But, parents can get into a constant cycle of redirecting and saying “no-no” when a baby shows a natrural curiosity for interesting objects. The balance is remaining consistent about what the baby should not play with (safety concerns such as outlets, sharp objects, etc.) and what may be good learning experiences. For instance, our baby always wants to play in the pantry. I’ve moved all his snacks and other safe items to the bottom shelf so he can explore without my constant redirection. Decide what is a definite “no-no” and be consistent about it. Allow some supervised exploration of other items in the house.
  • Encourage daddies to get involved. Rough and tumble play is important for development. I rarely see our baby as elated as when daddy is throwing him in the air. Plus, he’s learning about movement and trust.
  • Be engaged as much as possible. When I am trying to spend some quality playtime with my baby, I often find my mind drifting to all the other things I need to do. Recent research has shown that babies as young as six months old can tell when their parent is engaged or distracted. For me, active engagement takes some effort, but I get much more out of our time when I allow myself to enjoy the play.
So, everyone get out there and play with your kids! You need it as much as they do!


  1. Your blog is darling. I'm in love.
    And of course following :) Happy Tuesday!

    Lady Million

  2. Thanks Katie! Now following your fabulous blog as well!


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