Last week we celebrated Under 8’s week! This is a joyful statewide celebration of young children and has been running in Queensland for more than 60 years, overseen by the Queensland Branch of Early Childhood Australia. This years theme is Play, Playfulness and Engaged Learners. As an early childhood teacher and a parent, I have been reflecting on what this means to me. I have been to many Under 8’s week celebrations over the years and I always love watching the children play.
When children play they are 100% engaged in what they are doing. They are creative and imaginative learners who can make anything fun! Children may choose to play on their own or socially, they love playing in different areas and with different toys.
Providing children with an environment that allows them to play and be playful is one of the great parts about being a parent. Here are a few of the things our children need for play:
A place to play
Children need a safe and engaging environment that promotes play. In early childhood settings, we often refer to the environment as the ‘3rd teacher’. This indicates the important impact that the environment has on children.
A space which is physically safe allows children to explore and play without worrying about their surroundings. Indoor and outdoor spaces provide opportunities for different types of play and both are important.
Children need a variety of toys and resources which are suited to their interests and stage of development. I have found toy rotation to be helpful, both as a parent and as a teacher! I’ve found having too many toys out just ends up with a messy space and bored children. Having a few simple toys encourages them to think creatively!
A loving, connected adult
One of our most important jobs as parents is to be available to our children. This doesn’t mean that we dedicate all of our time to sitting and playing with them, but children gain confidence and reassurance from having us close by and emotionally available. We can make times to sit and play with our children and also encourage them to have times playing without us, but they still need to be able to check-in to help them feel safe and secure.
Children often display a circling behaviour, this is particularly visible when you go to a new place. Your child will tend to start out playing close by you, then gradually venture further out, coming back every now and then to check-in. Even young babies do this, crawling away from their parents and then looking back to make sure everything is safe. Sometimes our children just need a smile or a thumbs up to build their confidence and help them keep exploring.
Childhood is a messy business! And we need to let it be. We need to give children both explicit and implicit permission to be noisy, messy, dirty children!
Explicit permission is the words that we say and the environment we provide. “Yes, you can play in the mud.” “Here is some paint to play with.” “Let’s have a dance party with loud music!”
Implicit permission is about our attitude, it’s saying smiling when we see our kids covered in dirt and saying, “Wow! What a mess, you must have been having so much fun!”.
When children have permission they truly get involved in play and learning and there are many wonderful development opportunities that open up for them.
When we get caught up in the busyness of life we can forget to schedule in time for play! Children need long, uninterrupted blocks of play in order to get involved in deep learning. Sometimes they actually need to get bored so they will be inspired! When we constantly interrupt children with our plans, food time, bath time, time to get ready and go, we are breaking their concentration and removing learning opportunities.
Children’s playfulness and imagination is one of the greatest gifts of childhood! And as parents, we are invited into this world every day. It can be easy to fall into the trap of rushing our children through their days with a frown on our faces, but if we stop and accept their invitation to play, laugh, dance and be silly we will be better for it.