Help Me Grow | United Way of Utah County

Ready, Set, Let’s Play!

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood,” Fred Rogers ( 2018). Before our children develop language skills to ask questions about the world around them, they learn by using their senses. They explore and discover at their own pace through play.

Play supports children’s skills across all developmental domains.

There are a few different kinds of play: structured and unstructured. Structured play teaches a child to follow directions, listen to rules, and is guided by the adult. Board games, puzzles, organized dance, or art classes are examples of structured play. Unstructured play allows the child to explore and play using their imagination. Playing dress-up, exploring outside, and making up their own board game, are examples of unstructured play.

The activities listed below start out as structured play because they will need your help building their new “toys.” Once the “toys” are built you can let their creativity soar! Toys or tools that promote learning don’t have to cost a lot. Most likely, you already have some of these items at home!

Here are a few ideas of ways to encourage play:

With a Cardboard Box: Next time you get an Amazon delivery don’t be so quick to throw out those boxes in the recycling bin! Boxes of any size can provide hours of fun for you and your little ones!

  1. Make a tunnel: Open up each end of two medium to large moving boxes. Using masking/packing or duct tape, tape the end of one box to the other. You now have a box tunnel that your little one can crawl, roll a ball, slither, or scoot through!
  2. Transportation station: Ask your child how they want to get around today? A Spaceship? A racecar? A bus? Use different size boxes to create their mode of transportation and don’t forget to pay attention to detail! You can use stickers, paint, markers, craft paper, crayons, etc.

Bed Sheets Blankets and Pillows: A simple bed sheet is all you need to create hours of fun!

  1. Build a fort: One of my favorite activities, when my children were younger, was helping them build forts in our family room. We would use every blanket, sheet, and pillow in the house to build our fort which included a shared space for games, private spaces for reading or individual play, and of course the tunnels that connected everything together.
  2. Shadow play: Drape a sheet between two chairs to make a flat curtain. Shine a flashlight onto the sheet and watch your kids be amazed when they learn that by holding their hand up in the light, they can make shadows on the sheet! For older kids, you can add props.

Outside: Nature is our own natural playground! Allow your little one time to explore and discover their backyard, their neighborhood park, or while on your walk.

  1. Gathering squirrels: My nieces loved pretending to be squirrels who were gathering extra food to store away for the winter while we would go on our evening walks. Sometimes they would also gather things they would need to keep warm like bark from trees, leaves, dead grass, and of course little rocks to decorate their home.
  2. What is that?: While outside ask your child what they see, hear, feel, etc. You will be amazed at how observant and curious they can be! Allow them to jump, climb, explore, use an outside voice, etc. For a learning activity, collect items they find interesting and bring them back home for an art project.

Play is learning in real time! “It builds skills they’ll use throughout their lives, such as solving problems, interacting and negotiating with others, processing emotions, taking risks, flexibility, resilience, and self-direction” ( 2019). To a child, play means fun, joy, and time with their favorite person, you! To learn more about fun ways to learn through play visit the Play With Me Series. Ready, Set, Let’s Play!

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