Friday, January 15, 2010

Play to Learn: What It Means for Parents

The last three posts have concentrated on a few ideas about what children learn through play as suggested by Dr. Alice Honig in the Young Children journal article, "Play, Ten Power Boosts for Children's Early Learning" (September, 2007). Providing rich and varied play experiences for children definitively has been proven to boost children's early learning (Kaplan 1978; Bergen 1998; Johnson, Christie & Yawkey, 1999, as cited in Honig, 2007). As one of your child's play partners, you may be wondering what your role is during your shared play experiences.

If you are a regular visitor to our Museum, you probably have noted many discoveries your child encounters during play in our seven neighborhoods of play and learning. For instance, remember the first time your child discovered water can move objects? What did he do? Most children delight in their discoveries and want to repeat or "test" their hypothesis over and over again. Sharing in your child's discovery encourages him to keep exploring.

Whether playing at home or in the Museum, here are a few more supportive ways to facilitate your child's learning through play:

Take time to watch and listen. Before joining your child's play with your words or actions, take time to observe how he is playing and experimenting. Not only will you delight in your child's discoveries, you will also find that observing is a great way to get to know your child's interests and gain understanding about what he is learning. You may be surprised at how competent your child is when you focus on what he is doing.

Acknowledge what you see. Instead of acknowledging with the phrase "good job," give your child specific feedback about what she did or what happened. Acknowledgement can be a gesture, facial expression or verbal feedback. Remember your child's discovery of what water can do? Here are some phrases you might say that show you notice your child's discoveries. "You did it!" "Wow, look at that! The water made the wheel turn!"

Extend Play. Offering other materials or modeling a new skill based on your child's interests is a way to initiate interaction and suggest additional possibilities, extending your child's learning while he continues to play. For instance, when your child notices the water wheel turn when he pours water on it, offer a larger container. Does the wheel move faster with a larger volume of water being poured over it?

Remember to have fun and enjoy the memories! Our children are always watching us. When they see you making new discoveries, you are sharing a valuable lesson, that is, learning is a lifelong process.

For further information about supporting your child's play at DuPage Children's Museum, visit the parent support section of our Web site. For some ideas about how play encourages children's learning, visit previous posts from our Play at the Museum section of the blog. Looking for more reasons to play? Check out our Just for Grown Ups resource, Ten Reasons to Make Time for Play. This resource is based on information from experts (including the American Academy of Pediatrics) and recent research supporting the importance of play to a child's overall development and achievement.

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