Play that Counts

As a parent and nanny supervisor, I understand that there are all different types of play that fill a child’s day. Currently, my preschool-age children love playing “Pet Store”. Perhaps you’ve played pet store with your own child or will at some point. At our house, the child pretends he’s a certain type of animal (this ranges from a kitty cat, to an alligator, to an armadillo). The parent “buys” that pet and spends time creating a home for their new pet, providing pretend food, appropriate toys, and some cuddles (unless it’s an armadillo – you can’t really cuddle an armadillo). I enjoy this play for it’s creativity and fun. But what really gets me excited, and what we love to share with our nannies, are variations on play that allow you to teach and practice important skills while playing.  Here are some of our current favorites:

Playing Storekeeper: For preschool/kindergarten-age children you can create a store that allows them to practice their numbers and some simple math. Provide the child with paper slips with numbers on them. The child can pull out favorite toys and select a price for each of them. Next, you can go shopping with slips of paper that act as your toy money. By asking the child how much things cost and asking them to confirm that you are paying with the right amount of money, the child can practice his number recognition and simple math.

Counting Fun: Car rides can become educational for these same age children by watching for things to count while you are traveling to your destination. How many mailboxes are there between home and school?  How many traffic lights do you go through on the way to the store? Hearing and repeating those numbers can help them learn the rhythm of counting.  For older children, challenge them to count by fives or tens when you pass certain objects.

Reading Time: Use story time to help a pre-reader practice their letter sounds. Pause during the story to ask the child to help you sound out a word or ask them what sound the first letter of a word makes.

Baking: I love to bake with my kids and love the many educational opportunities that baking provides.  It’s a great time to learn about fractions and different measurements. Last time we baked, our teaspoon-size measuring spoon was missing. Instead of searching for it, we used our 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon. This was a simple and great opportunity to reinforce that 2 halves make one whole. Asking your older child to take the lead on reading the recipe and making the decisions about what to do next offers a great chance for fun reading practice and developing the ability to follow instructions.

There are so many different kinds of play that parents, nannies and other adults can choose for the children in their care. Some play works on fine motor skills, some on problem solving skills, and some play is just plain fun. But isn’t it great when your child is having a great time AND their mind is learning important skills at the same time!


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