What can a child learn through play? Quite a lot, it turns out. When you engage a child in the right game, it acts as part-mnemonic device, part-edutaining moment.
Shonali Lihala, Chief Play Officer at play centre Katie Jane Dubai, explains: “Play is an activity that by its nature is self-directed and intrinsically motivated. It is the way children experiment with reality and 'test' how things might work. Play is how children test their own boundaries, try new things, it helps children teach themselves and process new information. Play is often a good indicator of a child's social, emotional and physical development for that reason.”
Source: UNICEF and Lego Foundation paper, ‘Learning through Play’
Playing is also a lesson in imagination and its exercise. “We have seen that children’s playful experiences unveil their remarkable abilities in exploration, imagination, and creativity,” explains Asha Ramchandani, co-founder of Dubai-based children’s play museum OliOli. “The hands-on elements of play enforce the autonomy of the child through understanding their environments and contributing to their surroundings, which builds their confidence in bringing change and development to their world.”
We have seen that children’s playful experiences unveil their remarkable abilities in exploration, imagination, and creativity.
Tanya Dharamshi, Clinical Director and Counselling Psychologist at Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, echoes the sentiment, offering the following tips for getting the most out of play time:
1. Role-play. Children learn lots from role-playing with adults or other children. Parents can role play certain scenarios with their children, to teach them new social skills. For example; ‘Let’s pretend we are friends going to play at the playground and there is only one swing and we both want to go on it’. They can ‘role play’ how the child should respond and share. This sort of role playing can teach children so much. They have to solve a problem and think about what is right and wrong and fair, and communicate all this.
2. Turn-taking. This is an important part of play for young children and often young people find this hard. Try playing family games that involve turn taking so young people get used to coping with this again.
3. ‘Emotion reading’ games. These can be fun and useful games to play with your child. Write down an emotion on a piece of paper and take it in turns to act them out with body language and facial expressions. Often difficulties in the playground occur due to young people misreading each other's body language.”
What about pretend play?
“Pretend or ‘make believe’ play typically sees children acting out scenarios or stories in which they explore and test out different roles, perspectives, ideas, and emotions. This might involve play with conventional toys, like a young child’s attempts to feed a doll or race toy vehicles against one another. It may also involve more symbolic or imaginative interactions, when objects are used to represent something else entirely,” explains Ola Ahmed, Consultant Lead Child and Adolescent Psychologist, Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Ahmed offers these tips to better a child’s imagination:
• Provide toys and materials that lend to pretend play. This could include toy vehicles, dolls/figurines, playdough and costumes for dressing up. Props and objects representing everyday objects such as a toy kitchen set are also helpful for encouraging pretend play. When playing with toddlers, consider modelling and prompting pretend play using puppets and toys that can ‘come to life’.
• Let the kids take the lead. Instead of giving instructions or suggestions, try to comment on what your child is doing while they play. This child-directed approach allows play to progress at your child’s pace and according to their own interests and ideas, in turn supporting the emergence of flexible and creative thinking. In addition to this, regular child-directed play helps to foster strong parent-child relationships and therefore supports your child’s overall mental health and wellbeing.
• Ask questions. Help your child to demonstrate and build on their skills by showing an interest in their ideas and asking open-ended follow-up questions. Try reading and discussing imaginative stories jointly and encourage your child to consider what might happen next in the story. More broadly, providing your child with a wide range of life experiences is likely to help stimulate their creativity and imagination. Consider how you can provide the space, time, materials, and encouragement that your child requires to explore new experiences, both at home and elsewhere.
The whole draw of using play to teach is, the lesson becomes a by-product of a fun time. The child will absorb knowledge without even realising it. If they are engaged, teaching becomes child’s play.
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