How do children play? And how can I play with my child? These are questions I have often asked myself and the answer is... it depends on their age.
I have noticed over the years the different ways Big T has played and how it has changed.
Fundamentally to me, playing is the number 1 activity I believe is vital in a child’s development. With whatever they are playing with, they are in fact also learning. Learning doesn't have to be sat at a desk with a pencil and doing numbers. Everything a child does is learning. From going for a walk in a forest, and counting the number of berries they pick from the bush, to shopping with mummy and making sure they check everything off a list. Even when Big T gets out his new PJ mask toys and is flying Owelette in the air making up his own story, here he is learning so many different skills… and he thinks it's just fun!
It goes without saying, if a child thinks something is fun, they will do it. Which is why if you can make anything into a game, it is more likely to be successful. So if you really need a child to do a particular thing and they are reluctant to do it, turn it into a game. Need to get their shoes on fast? Why not see if they can beat your timer? (I’m not saying this works everything time but it might be a change from yelling at them to do it)
Let’s look at the different playing styles of a child. I think once you know what these are it’s easier to accommodate what they need and set up various activities which they are more likely to play (I say more likely rather than definitely because every child is different!)
Unoccupied Play (Birth-3 Months)
At this stage baby is just making a lot of movements with their arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. They are learning about and discovering how their body moves.
Solitary Play (Birth-2 Years)
This is the stage when a child plays alone. They are not interested in playing with others quite yet.
Spectator/Onlooker Behavior (2 Years)
During this stage a child begins to watch other children playing but does not play with them. For me this is where my second child is at. He turned 2 years old a couple of months ago and he is only really starting to engage in play with his brother. So perhaps he has a little of the play style below too.
Parallel Play (2+ Years)
When a child plays alongside or near others but does not play with them this stage is referred to as parallel play.
Associate Play (3-4 Years)
When a child starts to interact with others during play, but there is not a large amount of interaction at this stage. A child might be doing an activity related to the kids around him, but might not actually be interacting with another child. For example, kids might all be playing on the same piece of playground equipment but all doing different things like climbing, swinging, etc.
Cooperative Play (4+ years)
When a child plays together with others and has interest in both the activity and other children involved in playing they are participating in cooperative play.
You can find further information about the different styles here.
I think Big T is now a mix of associate play stage and cooperative play, particularly when it comes to hide and seek (his current favourite game).
Sometimes he and his brother play well together, they are getting better at playing together however they both have their moments. Often they get in each other's way, or they might not be on the same page with the particular rules of a game! (face palm!)
They both decided to play a game whereby they pushing little cars down the "tunnel" and they played well together - but it usually doesn't last!
Here are some ideas to aid the different styles of play:
Best activities for babies (under 3 months)
You really can’t go wrong with game of peek a boo. This was one of my boy’s favourite games at this stage. Either hide your own face between a cloth or even your own hands, and surprise them with a big smile and peek a boo or even place a light cloth briefly over their own face and lift it away! With both my boys, I actually created a simple basket of safe items they could explore by themselves- things can make different noises, different textures such as clean cloths, crunchy paper, bristly brushes. Making sure they were safe to play with, of course.
You could check out here for some other ideas here.
The sorts of activities you may see when your child is in the solitary play stage would be stacking towers, nesting toys, playing with blocks, maybe turning the pages of books. The sorts of things can explore themselves.
Some other ideas here.
Activities for 3 years olds
Role playing really encourages their imagination. We have a play kitchen and although it is sometimes used to making “food” often it is other things, a jail for his toys, or somewhere to store his special treasure, or a house for his cars. He sometimes sets up a shop and sells his teddies from the play kitchen. We also have a selection of different coloured peg dolls, and rainbow pieces (pictured below) and these can be anything. I think in this photo big T made a home for the peg dolls and they were lining up to have a turn in the house!
There are some more brilliant play ideas here for this age range here.
Activities for 4 year old plus
Thinking ahead, some play ideas for 4 years olds could include making puppets, sitting down with a board game (Big T really likes the Orchard Toys board games currently!).
There are some great play ideas here (although I apologise as there does seem to be a lot of pop up adverts on this website, though the actual information is useful)
Fundamentally, I honestly believe if you have a bank of toys - not too many and if you have a lot perhaps consider doing a toy rotation so that the children are not to overwhelmed by a mass amount of toys and also you can keep the limited selection fresh. They can usually come up with their own ideas of what to play with.
“The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.” - Maria Montessori
Sometimes they will play with the toys you set up for them, other times they will play in the box!
There is much talk at the moment about Montessori and the Montessori style of play and learning, especially on Instagram. People assume that this means expensive wooden toys or toys which are completely blank which the child can make their own. But “Montessori” is actually the surname of a lady called Maria Montessori and this is actually an approach about her goals and beliefs with regards to educating children. In summary this is the outline:
The Montessori Theory is an approach to learning developed by Maria Montessori where the key principles are Independence, Observation, Following the Child, Correcting the Child, Prepared Environment and Absorbent Mind.
If you would like to find out more about this, this website is very useful.
It doesn’t necessarily mean wooden toys, but it just means using the environment around the child in how they play. Make sure the environment in which they play is conducive to inspire their imagination.
There are actually many different theories of play and learning. If you would like to be academic, this article may be of interest.
When it comes to play, I find it is better to follow the child’s lead a.k.a. Following the child. You could set up something to play with and make suggestions, but play time is their time. Step back a moment and observe your child, are they a builder? A painter? Do they enjoy play dough? Or perhaps they don’t like the texture on their hands? Will they stack a tower with blocks? Or make a zoo for their toy animals? One of my favourite things to do is to set up a few toy options and then see what one they want to play with- maybe they will get round to playing with everything you set up, or maybe they will go back to the storage box and play with something else entirely different.
When you read about these different stages, do they ring any bells with your children? Can you see their play style listed here? What sorts of things do your children enjoy playing with?
I would love to hear what you think.
In other news, I am delighted with the response to the call out for guest bloggers. Stay tuned as from 24th September the series will be launched. I am so excited to mix things up and hear stories from other parents about their experiences.
If you would like to be part of the guest blog series, you can find all the information about how to sign up here. The only real criteria is that the topic of the blog has to relate to parenting, well-being, and such like and it can't be too commercial in tone. However, all details are available on the website.
I also submitted my gift box collection for consideration to feature in the Isabella & Me Christmas Gift guide this week. Fingers crossed it will be chosen! I know, it does seem strange talking about Christmas it's only August!
If you would like to take a look at the Positive Wellbeing Zine which is edited by Emma from Isabella & Me, you can purchase your copy via the website. You can get an individual copy or you can add it onto a gift box! I stock 3 different issues covering Self-care, Balancing Life as a mother and Well-being. They are beautiful and nourishing reads, perfect for some much needed time out for a mum.
Wishing you a fab week ahead,