As parents we are always in search for the best to offer our children. The latest educational toy, interactive app, whether to introduce the Nook, Nuby, or IPAD? We're so busy trying to figure out what to offer next to our child once they've grown tired of the latest toy that we've gotten away from the rawness of simple interactive parent/child play. Play is fundamental in both learning and development. It is the foundation for reasoning and collaboration. It allows the child to explore, satisfy curiosity, experiment and have fun! Your child learns through play and it is the means through which he engages in the world. Children crave adult interaction and in particular from their primary caregiver. You are your child's first playmate. Play begins the moment your baby reaches out to touch that rattle, or mobile hanging from the crib. Very early on your baby explores behaviors and noises for their effect on you. This is known as Exploratory play.
As a child development specialist I use targeted play therapy to develop certain skills such as language and expand learning. It is through interaction with real people and exploration that children learn best. So, at the risk of sounding mundane I'd like to offer some tips/ideas to expand on learning and work on language for the next time you sit down and "play" with your preschooler.
Mr. Potato Head
This is an old tried but true toy and one of my favorite in therapy. Children never seem to tire of this toy and there is SO much you can do with it. As you sit with your child you can target naming body parts for the toddler. I suggest to keep all the Potato Head pieces in a ziplock bag to withhold and encourage your chid to request the item they want. You can model the word and encourage imitation if they are unfamiliar with it or have not mastered it yet. ex: mustache, eyebrows etc., You can also work on taking turns and sharing with the older preschooler, as well as engage in Imaginative/pretend play. Give the Potato head a name, talk about where they are going, sing a song. Simply engage. The key is to have as many pieces as possible to encourage creativity and the imagination.
Once again another oldie but goodie. Play-Doh allows your child to engage in Creative play. Something about it's squishiness and colors offers sensory feedback that many older children enjoy playing with it as well for its therapeutic feel. Children can target fine motor skills, design, mold and create. I suggest to simply not just offer the Play-Doh, but sit down and get in on the fun. Roll, shape and speak with your child. Create a play-doh world with figures, make new colors, open up a bakery or diner and offer play-doh food. Let your child's imagination and yours run wild!
Nowadays you can find many accessories to go along with the play-doh where you can work on letters, numbers and shapes as well.
These are just a couple of examples. Tea sets and household pots and pans can also be used in play.
So the next time your chid asks you to "play with me", sit down and let the imaginations run wild!