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Interest and Engagement Learning through Play

Give Your Preschooler the Freedom of Play

I read an article the other day detailing the competitive nature of kindergarten admission among private schools in NYC.  The article detailed the lengths that parents would go through to get their child in the “perfect kindergarten”.  Among the tactics was hiring private tutors and donating to the school.  

As I read this article, I wondered if these children were able to immerse themselves in play before they were sent off to the world of modern-day kindergarten with computer-adaptive tests and walking in single-file lines. 

I get it, parents want to give their best to their children and most children will go to a kindergarten classroom (mine all have!)  But we should all take advantage of the early years and give our children the freedom of play.  Allowing for play doesn’t mean that we aren’t teaching our children, it just means that we allow play to dominate the way that they learn.  And since we know that the minutes before they enter a traditional classroom are ticking closer and closer, we can find ways to let them play with what interests them most and embed the learning goals.

3 Ways to Encourage your Child to Learn Through Play

1.  Play with your child

There is no better way to encourage your child to make choices and follow his/her interests than playing with him/her–join in games, pretend play, draw pictures.  Play second fiddle to your child.  Let him/her guide you.  Follow his/her rules and play a role.  Allow the play plus your interaction be the teacher.  

2.  Figure Out What your Child Likes

If you want to become a pro at embedding learning goals in play, figure out what interests your child the most.  Lucas LOVES dinosaurs!  If I sit down and play with Lucas with dinosaurs I can teach him counting, colors, patterns, whatever.  All because I have tapped into his interests.  

3.  Use Manipulation to Your Advantage

Sitting down to write on lined paper or being drilled with flashcards does not conjure images of fun for anyone.  Most kids aren’t going to consider those activities their favorites.  Children often engage more when they are able to manipulate materials and interact with another person (that’s you, mom and dad).  When you allow children to make and build and create they are able to learn and engage at the same time.    

Two Ideas for Playing with Your Child

1.  Go on a scavenger hunt!  Grab baskets or bags and look for items that are the same color or shape or incorporate a letter.  Collect the items, line them up, and count them with your child. 

2.  Role Play with Your Child!  Lucas’ favorite super-hero is the Black Panther.  He often asks me to play Black Panther with him (he always gets to be King T’Challa).  I follow directions and play the role he suggests.  We also do the same thing when he wants to play dinosaurs (and I never get to be the T-Rex).  You might be surprised at the complexity of language your child exhibits during pretend play.

What is your favorite way to encourage your child to play?  Do you ever embed learning goals into your child’s play?