One of the best ways parents can promote early learning in their children is through play. Play is powerful--it’s the way babies learn about the world around them.
Yes, before kindergarten, it’s helpful to have knowledge of numbers and letters, but play can foster your child’s approaches to learning and also grow self-confidence--which advances readiness for school. Besides being fun and rewarding, playing with your baby promotes higher-order thinking skills like cause-and-effect, spatial awareness, problem solving, curiosity and persistence.
You don’t need fancy toys or products promoted as “educational” to make the most of playtime with your child. Basic items like blocks, stacking rings, and sorters can be helpful, or household items like socks or bowls, but really, you are your baby’s best toy for learning.
Taking time to interact with your baby and play with them demonstrates love and care, but also teaches them a great deal. What are some ways you can make the most of playtime with your baby to foster their growth?
• Follow their lead. Provide some items that may be of interest and see what he is drawn to. Let him interact with the item and watch what he does with it. Don’t worry if he is using an item the “wrong” way--don’t correct that yet. Let him show you a new way!
• Start slow. It may take awhile for her to figure out ways to maneuver or manipulate something. You can model a way to use an item, but allow her plenty of time to test things out for herself.
• DIY. Try to let him do as much on his own as possible. Yes, you may have to demonstrate or get things going, but don’t let your child become a passive observer of you merely playing with his toy. He won’t learn much by just watching.
• Provide support. Are you needed to get something out of her reach? Does she need you to help lift her up to touch something? Be present and aware of how you can maximize her explorations.
• Be patient. Repeating things over and over may not be exciting to you, but it’s stimulating for your baby. Repetition allows them to practice skills and uncover new understandings.
• Introduce new challenges. When your baby is ready, you can offer up new experiences to promote growth, like moving a favorite item a little further away, or presenting a series of movements to copy. Be careful not to expect too much, too soon.
Of course, ensure that any play area is safe. To allow your child to fully explore, she must feel secure to do so. Make sure to check out the area ahead of time to avoid injuries.
Playing is how babies acquire knowledge, and much is absorbed during these early crucial years when the brain is growing in leaps and bounds. Joining your baby in play is a fulfilling and vital way you can actively take part in their first learning experiences.
Visit ReachOutandRead.org for more information on the importance of reading with your child.