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.
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