Playtime is saturated with benefits for children's emotional, physical, intellectual and social development. Make the most of playtime fun, while minimising frustrations and tears:
Define roles and expectations
For structured play, goals, rules and the environment are set. This allows your child to work through any anxieties or frustrations, especially when introducing new skills and concepts.
Avoid over-structuring playtime
Under-threes need mostly free play. During free play your child makes discoveries and masters activities in a creative, undirected manner, where there is no “right” or “wrong” way to do things.
Change the setting
Whatever the game, the environment needs to be safe and supportive, with sensory input matched to the task. For example, if you are going to do drawing, sitting at a desk with soft music in the background is ideal. If the game is jumping, go outdoors, put on active music and use brightly-coloured equipment.
Vary the type of play
Active play enhances physical development through movement and uses up excess energy. Creative play ignites creativity through the senses. Dramatic play sets the imagination free. Trying out different roles and situations develops empathy, problem-solving and emotional release.
Social play builds social skills and emotional intelligence. Manipulative play broadens visual and fine motor skills. Quiet play bolsters concentration, early literacy, auditory and perceptual skills.
Choose age-appropriate activities
Your child needs the security of his strengths to take risks and try new things. Start small. Introduce one challenging task at a time. End the activity on a positive note.
Listen with your eyes
Watch for non-verbal cues. Your child communicates through non-verbal cues such as eye contact, expression, tone of voice, posture, response to touch and energy-level (lethargic or hyperactive).
Timing is everything
When drowsy your baby needs quiet time. Calm-alert is the playful state when he is most responsive. Active-alert is when he loses focus and displays self-comforting behaviour like sucking his fists or rubbing his ear. These are warning signs that he is over-stimulated and wants time out. If stimulation continues there could be meltdown.
Be involved in your child’s play
Your presence makes his time more valuable and enjoyable. Your attention is a better reward than any sweet or toy.
Check for concentration changes
Children become bored if an activity is too drawn out. Extend concentration by providing short, varied activities.
Expose don’t impose
To expose your child to new concepts, model them, but don’t take over. Don’t worry if he doesn’t get it the first few times. Children soak up demonstrated concepts but only act on them in developmental order.
Allow the process to unfold
Sometimes when we watch our children taking the scenic route to the purpose of the activity, we want to step in and play for them. Don’t. Children enjoy the process of playing; the end point is the cherry on the top.
Use routine times to play
Play a game or sing a song when you’re changing nappies; play games in the bath and make a game out of household chores.
Fun comes first
When fun ends, the benefits of play are eroded by pressure and fear.
Avoid teaching too much
Our eagerness to teach our children can rob them of the opportunity to develop thinking skills. Instead, give your child the time to solve problems by trial and error.
Accept that some frustration is inevitable and can be a learning opportunity. Help your child take conscious steps to deal with frustration and learn perseverance. Use key phrases or distractions to help him calm down and focus.
Respect his commitment
Your child is dedicated to learning through play. When you need to stop that particular play, give him fair warning so he can prepare.
Take a break
When he starts getting irritable and finds it difficult to re-focus, acknowledge his frustration and break the game up into smaller steps or do something else.
Playtime is not something you can impose by the clock. Build play into everyday tasks. Pacing is key. Fun is imperative. Bonding is natural.