This year’s theme for ‘Under 8’s Week’ is Play, Playfulness and Engaged Learners. Under 8’s week is a collection of events run across Queensland each year by schools, child care centres, kindergartens, playgroups, and community groups. It was started 60 years ago but the Queensland branch of Early Childhood Australia. I love attending Under 8’s events and expect lots of fun this year even though things are looking a little different.
I love the concept of Play, Playfulness and Engaged Learners and have been reflecting on this topic and thinking about what children need to engage in play. As a parent and a teacher, I love watching children playing! There is nothing more satisfying than stepping back and seeing everyone happy. I love the engagement that children show when they are playing and how determined they are. I love watching get super involved in an idea or game!
As parents, we have a special opportunity to foster play and playfulness with our children. Here are a few things that children need to be able to play:
Safe and Engaging Environment
In the Reggio Emilia approach to education, the environment is labelled ‘the third teacher’, the spaces that children have to play in are of critical importance to their learning and development. Children need a space which is physically safe, but also a space which is inviting!
Children need age-appropriate toys and resources, it is important for these to be thoughtfully stored and presented and preferably offered a few at a time. Too many toys can be overwhelming for young children and rotating toys keeps things fresh and interesting
Children need different play spaces, their bedroom, the family lounge, or toy room as well as an outdoor play area.
A supportive adult
Having a supportive adult close by gives children the confidence they need to engage in play and learning. Sometimes it is fun to be involved in your child’s games but there are also times where it is great to sit back and observe. When we are available, both physically and emotionally children will feel confident to go out and explore their environment, they will often circle back and check-in but over time will grow in their ability to play independently. Sometimes our children just want to be reminded that we are there and just need a smile or a thumbs-up before they return to playing.
It is important to balance interaction and observation – by giving children another minute before we finish their puzzle, fix their toy and intervene in their game we might be surprised at what they can do!
Children sure can be messy, noisy, dirty little things! But so often when they are messy, noisy and dirty they are also engaged in deep play! We need to give them permission to get deeply involved. This can be directly through our words, ‘yes you can do finger painting now’ and also through how we react when there is the inevitable mess! By using positive language and focusing on their play, learning and engagement we can teach children that mess is a normal part of life! When I hear myself make a negative comment, “Wow! What a big mess” or “Wow! You are so dirty!” I try and follow it up with a positive one, “You must have been having lots of fun!” “You must have been working really hard at your game!”. We don’t want our children to be so worried about making a mess or getting dirty that they won’t get involved in activities.
Time and Space
We all need time and space when working on an important project, reading a book or doing a job, and children are no different! As parents, part of our job is to provide long stretches of uninterrupted time for children to play. When we continually interrupt them with ‘food time, toilet time, time to go’ we break their concentration and compromise the opportunity to deep and involved play. If we can take the time to pause and look before we talk to children we can easily find opportunities to get their attention in a respectful way.
Playfulness is one of the best bits of childhood! But sometimes I need to remind myself to be playful, it is so easy to get caught up in daily life and go around frowning at our children as we try and get them from here to there, then fed and to bed! But there are moments of fun and playfulness amongst the everyday. We can sing a song, play a game during bath time or use funny voices and make believe. Our children are always inviting us to join them in play, we just need to be ready to accept.