Keep the Play Alive

Diverse children enjoying playing with toys

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

I remember when I first came across this quote from the patron saint of positive child development messages, Mr. Rogers, at a workshop. The show defined everything I believe about the value of play, and how fundamental it is for children to experience this method of learning. It reminded us to value the important ways that play builds skills development. If simply having fun was the only outcome of children’s play, that would be more than enough, but there is so much more to it.

As parents and caregivers, our primary role is to support play. We are understandably anxious about the pressures for children to have kindergarten readiness skills in place well before they start elementary school. The reality of standardized kindergarten curricula that is aligned to state standards and Common Core standards leads many parents to focus on academic skills, such as learning the ABCs and counting to 20. The pressure to teach our young children these skills can lead us to overlook play. We might even feel that introducing worksheets, drills, flash cards, or the many learning apps that mimic these modes are the key to bringing our kids up to the standards of kindergarten.

Research has shown that young children learn differently from school-aged kids. Play helps early learners build the skills necessary for critical thinking, autonomy, self-awareness, focus and leadership. Children build confidence through problem-solving. Academic skills like number sense, letter recognition, and phonological awareness (letter sounds) are developed through active play and the use of language. For example, when children experiment by sorting objects and building structures, they are learning observation, spatial reasoning, and logic skills by comparing sizes, shapes, and amounts. This forms the fundamental building blocks for understanding math and science.

Through playing together or with a caregiver, children learn how to cooperate with others, share materials, listen and build self-control and self-awareness. These are the necessary social skills that serve as foundations for academic success. Ask a kindergarten teacher what their students need and they will likely talk about self-control, focus, and sharing over every student entering their classroom knowing their upper and lower case letters. Nurturing a love of learning through open or guided play with others builds the social-emotional skills that make our children ready to learn.

Parents and caregivers help children learn by supporting creative play. We can support them by providing a variety of creative materials like blocks, crayons, dolls, toy cars, and animals or household items like pots and pans, thread, laundry caps, scarves, and utensils. We know that children get the most out of play when they interact with caregivers but it is important to let kids lead.

Ask questions about their play without giving too much of your own interpretation. When they are roaring like a lion, instead of just saying, “Oh no! It’s a scary lion”, try asking questions that lead to more dramatic play. “I hear you roaring, who are you going to eat today?” “Where do you live, Madame lion?” When they are drawing, instead of saying what it looks like to you: “Is that a ladybug? That’s so pretty”, try a more open-ended approach. “I see that you used a lot of strong red and black colors. The pattern of dots is striking and really stands out! What is it? What goes next to it?” Let the child tell you whether or not it’s a ladybug.

When we support play without taking control of the learning process, children learn to express their own ideas and develop critical thinking and independence. Ask guiding questions or step back and allow the child to speak freely. Knowing how to support rather than guide play recognizes and values the skills our children are developing.

At BANANAS, we believe in the power of play for learning! We host Play and Learn playgroups throughout Oakland and Berkeley and will be opening up playgroups in the Havenscourt Community of East Oakland four days/week starting in September 12 at the Cubhouse – A Family Play Zone. Come join us and get some serious learning in! Click here to RSVP.

FUN DIY LABOR DAY WEEKEND IDEAS

Labor Day Family Fun

Labor Day marks the end of summer, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of fun! While many children are already back in school, this three-day weekend gives us one last chance to celebrate before school really kicks into gear. We have some fun family ideas that you can do with your child that will make this long weekend a memorable one.

Thank a worker– Labor Day celebrates the economic and social legacy of hard-working people, so why not take this opportunity to thank a few people who make your life a little easier? Bust out the glitter glue and make thank you cards for the mailman, a firefighter, or a librarian. Try out some cute and easy thank you card ideas. Foster a child’s creativity and fine motor skills with an activity that you will enjoy together.

Scoop it up– Spend quality time with your child by learning how to make your favorite ice cream at home. Check out these mouthwatering recipes! Did you know that you can help little learners practice some basic math concepts when you cook together? Help your child hone basic math skills, such as counting, sorting, and measuring. While pouring milk or cream into a measuring cup, point out fractions and say, “Let’s fill half of the cup with cream and half of the cup with milk.” Ask your child to cut the ice cream into halves and count bites with them.

Play pretend– Let children, and their friends, dress up as a nurse, a bus driver, or as someone they want to be when they grow up. Similarly, put on a backyard show and get children in the Labor Day spirit. It is no secret that pretend play is an essential part of a child’s development. Encouraging children to role play supports their social-emotional development and enhances creativity. Let their imaginations run wild with this fun activity.

Talk and read– Talk to them about all the different jobs that people do. Help them understand how everyone in the community has an important job. Check out the list of community helper books for your preschooler. Ask your child questions like, “What do you think a construction worker does” or “What is the job of a lifeguard?” By reading to children and talking about what you’ve read, you’re introducing new words that increase vocabulary and promote literacy. Furthermore, you are helping children get academically ready for school by talking and reading to them every day.

Play, learn, and grow together– As a parent, and a caregiver, you are the biggest supporter of your child’s learning. Make time for play to promote their physical, social-emotional, language, and thinking skills. Explore lots of fun arts and crafts ideas on our Pinterest board, such as handprint strawberry craft, condensed milk painting, bathtub crayons, and more that support the philosophy that children learn best through play.

These family fun activities allow you to talk, read, and play with children. And, it is never too early to start providing experiences that will help your child enter school ready to succeed. We hope you have an amazing weekend. Don’t forget to make a little time to kick back and relax. You deserve it!

 

 

 

The ABC’s of School Readiness

At the start of a new school year, it’s natural for parents to feel anxious about sending their child off to kindergarten. You want to make sure that your preschooler is completely ready for their first-ever experience in a classroom. But what does school readiness really mean for a child? School readiness is much more than just learning a set of facts and skills. Getting children ready for school is a process that starts as soon as the child is born. It requires you to spend time reading, talking, and playing with your child.

Here are some tips to help you prepare your child for kindergarten.

Read aloud to your child– Take visits to the library. Check out books, attend a storytime, and be sure to read to them every day. Point to pictures in a book and say the words together. Make reading fun and perhaps create different character voices to make it interesting for your child.

Engage your child in language and literacy activities– Encourage your preschooler to write their name. Let a toddler scribble, draw, and write. Sing nursery rhymes and do fingerplay to stimulate their understanding and use of language. Appreciate their attempts and watch their skills develop with practice. Praise them for trying new things.

Develop and follow routines– Daily routines such as cleaning up after play, taking baths, packing their own bag for an outing offer rich opportunities to support your child’s learning and development. Have regular routines for mealtime and bedtime. Furthermore, getting up around the same time every day will get them used to a school schedule and prevent lack of sleep that can lead to behavioral issues.

Teach them independence– Children feel a great sense of pride when they are able to complete self-care tasks such as dressing themselves, tying their shoes, and using the bathroom without assistance. Let your child do simple chores like setting the table at mealtimes.

Nurture social and emotional learning– The ability to get along with other children, follow directions, and say “goodbye” to parents are skills that are essential for success in school and overall child development. Young children learn these skills through interactions with parents, teachers, and friends. Don’t forget to hug and kiss your child several times a day.

Enhance their thinking skills– In their every day experiences, children use and develop an understanding of math concepts, such as counting, sorting, and problem-solving skills that they will need for school. Give your child puzzles, blocks, and board games. Even better, get on the floor and play with them. Take your child to the zoo, grocery store, and post office. Talk to them about all the animals they saw at the zoo and what sounds they make. Make a list of all the items you want to buy at the grocery store—counting them as you place them in your basket. You can also point out the numbers and wording on the aisle signage by pointing up and saying “Let’s look for aisle 4, we need to find juice”. On the ride home, talk about the colors of the trees, the sky, and cars.

Play, play, and more play- Play is the centerpiece of learning. High-quality play experiences help improve children’s memory, language abilities, and social-emotional skills. Children learn by playing with every day objects and by pretending. The most effective ways for kids to learn about the physical and social world are by testing out new materials, playing with sand, water, and mixing bowls while engaging themselves in pretend play. Encourage your child to use their imagination.

Because kindergarten has more structure, it’s important to prepare your little one for the new environment. The best way to prepare is to talk about it. Before school starts, talk to them about what things will be like at school, how they’ll meet new people, learn new things, and make new friends. Visit the school and walk your new kinder down the halls and to their classroom. Encouraging your child to talk about how they feel is important, and how they should feel comfortable expressing their feelings to their new friend, their teacher. This is definitely a milestone to celebrate, even though your baby is growing up.