Each person in society has something he or she is supposed to do. One or both of the adults in the family is supposed to earn the money for the family. Someone in the household is supposed to make dinner and keep the house clean. A young child’s important job is playing.
While much is made of kindergarten readiness, it is still important for parents to recognize that a significant part of the way a child becomes ready for school is through play. Play is one of the ways the child learns to use symbols that are later the way he learns to read. Children use symbols to relate to the world. The rock becomes a cookie, a stick becomes a sword, a box becomes a car. Through play, the child is beginning the foundation for reading, for creativity and for problem solving.
Playing is something the child will do if he is provided the opportunity without interference. However, you can encourage this meaningful activity. Let your child feel your openness to his play. Respond to his imaginative games and allow his playfulness to emerge. Let him also see your playful nature. (You can pretend, too.) Give your child free time to explore. Have the old clothes, paper clips, blocks, paper, sticks or pots and pans that allow him to have an opportunity to make it all up from there. Encourage this creative play even if the house doesn’t look quite as clean. Make-believe develops creativity, problem-solving skills and language development, and it is fun.
Read books that encourage the silliness of make-believe. Certainly the famous Dr. Seuss books are some of the most creative books available for children. They encourage children’s silliness, and children love them. At the same time, reading is being taught and rhyming is learned; imagination knows no bounds. Perhaps these books set the foundation for parents to learn that everything doesn’t have to make sense.
Playing is one of the areas of life that far too many adults leave behind them. Having a chance to recapture our ability to play may be one of the most beneficial parts of being a parent. In ways, playing helps children grow up and keeps parents young.
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and now director of Parenting Matters Foundation. The foundation publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at email@example.com or at 681-2250.