Between 2-4 years your child is experiencing many developmental changes and his play is becoming more complex. You’ll notice your two year old start engaging in pretend play. As your child approaches 3 he’ll enjoy more playing with other kids. Their play begins becoming more complex and they start making up stories and rules for their games. They’re also using their imagination much more. Your child may no longer play with the broom to sweep a pretend house but instead use it as a sword in battle or a horse to ride. Your three year old is starting to understand sharing but may still find it difficult to share all the time and be patient. Children under 5 have a fairly short concentration span so don’t be surprised if your child decides to end a game suddenly.
Children experience two kinds of play, structured and unstructured (free) play. Unstructured play is the best kind of play for young children. It’s where they get to initiate what to do, choose freely, make decisions and explore. When children make up their own rules during play they learn critical thinking skills when they have to evaluate the situation or rethink rules when the game doesn’t work. It’s also a great opportunity to develop their social and problem solving skills as kids play together and figure out ways on their own to solve their problems. Examples include pretend play, exploring parts of the house like cupboards or gardens, painting or dancing.
Structured play is usually led by a grown-up and has limited time and space like dance class, music class, sports, etc. In today’s world everything is organized to the minute it’s important your child gets enough time for free play not just structured play experiences.
There are many skills that your child learns through play.
- Puzzles, memory card games, age appropriate board games and games with building and construction like blocks or Legos are great for developing your child’s thinking skills. Try making a homemade memory card game by printing out pictures and cutting the paper yourself. Simple and effective and you can make new ones easily.
- Playing dress-up is great to develop young children’s creativity and imaginative skills. Have old clothes, scarves, hats or props available for your child’s imaginative play. Messy play with paint, mud or play dough allows your child to create and explore different textures as well as learn how different materials work together. You can make homemade play dough with flour, water and some food coloring. Invest in old fashioned blocks with allow for open ended play and let your child create and his imagination to grow. Use everyday item like empty milk containers or boxes to set up a restaurant or throw a sheet over two chairs to create a fort. Playing house or restaurant can help your child’s counting skills as he adds up how much things costs or how many items he has. It’s also a chance for your child to relive social situations and reflect on incidents that may happen in a real restaurant.
- Give your child opportunity to play outside and let out his energy. Outdoor play is also important for your child’s gross motor skills which develop his larger muscles. Include opportunities for jumping, climbing, throwing and running. Include puppets in your child’s toy box. They are great for allowing children to express their emotions as they pretend to be another character. You can make a puppet easily by using a sock, some buttons for eyes and nose and knitting string for hair. Let your child make his own as well!
- Of course books are essential and crucial for every child’s toy box. Reading with children helps their language and literacy skills. Children learn new words and may even start recognizing short words like cat or dog. Let your child pick out books on his on and sit and read them or look through the pictures. You’d be surprised how young children can sit and look through a book, retelling the events or even making up their own version! Keep books within your child’s reach to give him plenty of opportunity. If you’re worried about ruining his books then just keep board books close by and make sure you read the paper books with your child.
A final word about television, you’ve seen how important and rich all the daily play activities we take for granted are for your child. While most play may sound loud and exhausting which can be tough to handle after a long day, there are many opportunities for quiet play as well like puzzles or blocks. Child development experts recommend no more than 1 hour of screen time a day for children 2-5 years old. This includes computers, tablets and television. In fact research has shown that excessive TV time with young children had delays in language and cognitive skills. Excessive TV time takes away from all the rich play opportunities your child should be having which in turn affects the development of all these skills.
I hope this article helped show you how important play can be for young children and how this is their natural way for learning about themselves and the world around them.
Photo By sixninepixels, from freedigitalphotos.net
By the age of one your child is developing a lot of new skills. He’s starting to say his first words and by the age of two will be forming short sentences. He’s taking his first steps and is more mobile. He can now reach for things on his own, jump and run. Naturally these changes also reflect on your child’s play and interests.
Children at this age start using their play to make sense of their world and how things work. They’re on the first step to imaginative play and enjoy playing with real life objects like pots & pans, brooms, gardening tools etc. He’s also beginning to be good at things and with repetition your child eventually masters that skill and moves on to making it more complex. Toddlers start developing new cognitive concepts at this stage; they start differentiating sizes and noticing if objects are the same or different.
Make sure your child has a variety of toys and experiences. You don’t have to use fancy toys or many toys either.
- Give your child a safe environment so he can explore and practice his new skills freely. If you see your child doing something incorrectly, don’t be quick to interfere and show him the “right” way. Give him a chance to figure out how to do things or develop his own technique. The thinking process is just as important as the end result. At the same time make sure you are near in case your child asks for assistance.
- Blocks: are a great way to build simple math and counting skills. Children also develop their fine and gross motor skills and eye-hand coordination as they make their towers taller. They are also using their imagination to make a house, a zoo or table with the blocks.
- Buckets and boxes: children at this age love filling containers and dumping them. Make sure there is a designated space where this is acceptable. It’s fun for kids and helps build their motor skills.
- Colors and paints: you can make your own homemade paint with water/flour/food coloring so it’s baby-safe. Give your child different textures like cotton balls, glitter, tissue paper and pieces of cloth. Place a big paper for your young child on the floor or place it against the wall. Give him thick and thin brushes, rollers or sponges and watch him explore the textures and create their own art. It’s OK if it turns into an all-black painting in the end. Remember it’s all about the process! Your child is expressing himself which adds to his self-confidence and self-awareness. He’s exploring different textures and as a result learning about their similarities, differences and attributes. Some may be easier to stick than others for example or watching how red and yellow make orange! He’s also developing his motor and language skills as you ask him which color he wants, point to and label the different colors and materials. If you don’t want to make a mess indoors try doing it outside in your balcony or garden or place a bigger plastic tablecloth under our child indoors.
- Pretend play: provide your child with items that are similar to real life like hats, scarves, old clothes. He might enjoy dressing the dolls in some of his own old cloths not doll cloths. More ideas are wands, cowboy boots, fisherman’s hat or doctor’s kit. These help your child learn about the world by repeating real life situations in play and imagining different scenarios and outcomes.
- Books: are always useful in multiple ways! You can read with your child or let her read on her own. Toddlers are old enough to learn how to hold a book the right side up and put them back when they’re done. Your child can use stories (with your help) to make sense of new situations like having a new baby or going to preschool. It’s also a great way to look again and again and again at items that aren’t in our direct environment like animals, forests, or the sea.
A word about playing with others and sharing
Around 14 months children start playing side by side this is called parallel play. Although they may seem like they are playing together they are not. Their play may be influenced by each other and they may verbally or non-verbally swap items but they have not yet begun to play together. Real sharing and group play starts around the age of three. If your toddler isn’t sharing don’t be alarmed or embarrassed. You can try to give him another toy for a few minutes and tell him his turn is next. Make sure you give him his turn within a few minutes!
What about television?
The strong recommendation of renowned pediatric association and child experts is to give no TV time before the age of two because it takes away from real life experiences and in reality may delay children in cognitive and language skills. You can read more about TV here.
How much play is enough?
Children play almost all the time and in general besides sleep probably only stay inactive for about an hour a day. The American National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends at least 30 minutes of “structured” physical play which means it’s initiated and let by an adult such as when you dance or try an obstacle course with your child. And at least 60 minutes of free play where your child gets to do whatever he chooses on his own. It’s important to try to maintain a balance of dictating your child’s play and letting your child take the lead. You might still get to be the princess or prince in his imaginative play.
Zero to Three: Power of Learning through Play
Zero to Three: Development of Play Skills
Kids Health: Toddler Play
Raising Children Australia: Toddler’s Play
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici