We play with our children from the moment they are born. We sing to them, smile at them and making silly noises to get their attention or to make them smile for the first time. All of these continue age appropriately and allow our children to flourish and learn whilst having fun.
An adults role in facilitating play is crucial, especially with children under the age of five this can also include promoting independent play but usually is only effective when the autonomy granted is age appropriate. Adults can facilitate learning through play through using techniques such as:
- Self talk and parallel talk
- Having the ability to interpret play cues to extend play
- Promoting independent learning
- Being able to handle repetitive behavior.
During play sessions with our children, some researchers suggest it is beneficial to the child if the adult communicates to the child with a vast vocabulary. Additionally, it can be helpful if the adult asks questions directed at the child as some researchers believe that this can help to facilitate with reading as a child grows older. Furthermore, continuous language provided by an adult can provoke reactions, which may be both physical and audible reactions. For example, when I say to Oscar can you find me a car from your toy box?. Oscar will not say yes mummy as he can not speak fluently yet instead he crawls over to the box to go to retrieve it. During this type of play I am supporting Oscar during this play session in order to progress and learn from all activities.
However, some researchers may suggest that when speaking to your children during play it is interfering and that play time is the child’s domain and you should not interrupt their flow of playing. Other researchers also suggest that a vast amount of conversation with a child can limit a child’s learning because it can be interrogating for the child. However, I am much on the belief that I like to support Oscar’s play, but I will also take a back seat and let him take charge when I deem necessary.
According to Vygotsky and Peterson self-talk is a prominent feature in children’s language development. This is whereby an adult will talk around a child but it’s about the adult’s actions. Even when the language is not directed at the child, the child is often listening and will absorb all of the information and vocabulary. An example of this is when I am building with lego or duplo I might say “Maybe I could put this brick here?” whilst building. In contrast, adults can also use parallel talk. This is whereby the adult will talk about what a child is experiencing at the time, whether it is about eating, running or reading . For example if Oscar was picking up a shoe I might say “Shooooeeeeee” elongating the word to try to teach it to him. Hoping that he might repeat it. Many researchers suggest that parallel talk can improve children’s cognitive and language development.
The elongating of a word could be connected greatly with the zone of proximal development (ZPD) that Vygotsky proposed, which Bruner developed as scaffolding. When trying to teach our little ones a new word we will often repeat a word and in turn the child will try to say it back. Quite often or not this will happen back and forth numerous times in the aim that the child will learn how to pronounce a word correctly. The type of modeling behaviour encourages and develops a child’s speech. The zone of proximal development is when at the beginning of a task there will be a mass amount of adult guidance, but once the child becomes more competent at the task the zone of proximal development widens and the guidance will lessen. Once the child has reached a high level of competence in the particular topic the child will be able to apply their new knowledge to another task.
Non-verbal communication is another important aspect to play and usually works well when the adult involved is able to interpret play cues. If a child becomes visually distressed during play they may need an adult’s guidance/help even when they can not speak. For example, Oscar may be digging deep into his toy box for a particular toy but he can not reach it. He may begin to grumble and moan. Instead of me getting it out for him, I may move certain toys out of the way in order for him to retrieve it. This can teach Oscar that in the future that if he move the toys like I did he will be able to retrieve the toy easily. The main thing is for the adult to remain responsive and protective of the child’s feelings. Research suggests that when/if play cues are not addressed properly it can have a negative effect on the way the child understands play cues when they become an adult in a play situation.
Another positive to guiding your child to the retrieval of a toy (in this instance) is that your child will not feel defeated. The adult (or you) should always value the child’s efforts (and praise them) and you can help to accomplish the retrieval together. This retrieval can indicate that the you as an adult have became a co-player in the play session. You and your child have held an equal importance to the game. Talking through the retrieval of a toy can allow the child to remain involved. Asking them questions and directing them (I have moved the car so you can reach the lion) maybe whilst making car (beep beep) and lion (ROOOAHHH) noises can help to keep the play environment fun which can also enhance learning.
As I have mentioned, independent play is also important in children’s play. Piaget suggested that independent learning was vital for cognitive development and that it allows the child to gain a sense of understanding of the environment they are in (self discovery). Reiggo Emilia and Tina Bruce are advocates of free flow play. Of which there are nine stages. One of these stages is that children need to choose to play themselves; they cannot be made to play.
As we know, children’s play can often become repetitive. Researchers suggest that the repetition of actions in play could build schemas in which a child can use in later life. Repetitive solo play can promote problem solving. Research suggests that when a child’s play becomes repetitive the adult should introduce new resources. The new resources have to be similar to the previous ones to achieve a balance between novelty and similarity. This is to ensure that the child can make a direct link to what they have previously been doing and will allow the child to see a purpose of what they are actively involved in .
I absolutely love learning about research about why our children do certain things and how I can aid them to develop further. I hope you have gained some insight into things that you probably do quite often and understand that the things we naturally do like smiling and copying our babies are vital to their development.
Lots of Love