Teaching through Play

This week, I sat down with a nanny who is studying child development. I loved hearing her report on her day-to-day interaction with the preschool-age children she cares for and the intentional approach that she takes to all of the activities she chooses for playtime.  This reminded me that we as parents can look at our everyday activities with our children and see how simple tweaks can also give them developmental purpose. Check out some of these examples for preschool age children:

Learning to Spell:  Write the letters of your child’s name on individual index cards and show her the cards in the correct order.  Next, mix up the cards and see if she can organize them to spell her name.  Try this with other words as well.

Counting Practice: Turn a scavenger hunt into a practice in counting by having your child find items by groups. For example, find 3 acorns, find 2 yellow flowers, find 5 red leaves etc.  Or create a treasure hunt using a map that has the number of steps your child must take. For example, Take 10 steps, turn right. Take 8 steps, turn left until they reach a hidden treasure.

Introductory Geometry: This fun twist on “I Spy” suggests that you call out a shape and ask your child to show you how many items in the room are that shape.  For example, how many circles can we find?

Fine Motor Skills: Developing strong hand muscles and coordination are key to future success at writing. Give some of these a try.

Ask your child to sort a small tub of beads (i.e. pony beads) into separate bowls based on their color and using only his pointer finger and his thumb to move the beads. This is great for hand coordination and color practice.

Let your child break the small bubbles on bubble wrap by pressing the wrap between his pointer finger and thumb.

Let your child use an eye dropper to transfer water from one small bowl to another. Make the activity more fun by adding food coloring to the water. Your child can combine colors from two different bowls in a third bowl to experiment with color mixing.

For snack time fun, place a thin layer of frosting or peanut butter on a graham cracker.  Trace letters into the frosting and let the child place raisins on the graham cracker to create the letters.  Your child can make a snack spelling her own name or maybe one for a friend or sibling.

Gross Motor Skills: A key part of helping children develop their gross motor skills involves a fancy phrase called bilateral integration which simply means teaching different parts of your body to work together to accomplish a task (i.e. catch a ball) or to work simultaneously yet differently to accomplish a task (i.e. planting one foot on the ground while kicking a ball with the other.)

A first step of bilateral integration involves the skill to walk forwards while tapping a knee with the opposite hand. i.e. tap your left knee with your right hand and vice versa.  Turn this into a relay race where you take turns trying to walk across the room tapping your knees.

A ball can also be used to practice these skills. First, roll a ball towards your child and ask them to kick it back without stopping the ball. After they’ve accomplished this skill, ask them to walk or run towards the ball and successfully kick it.

So much of childhood play has a purpose. Kids are growing and developing every day. Keep looking for opportunities to make each form of play worthwhile.

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