Learning by Playing
Playing is learning for children. What we call playing is more often trying to copy behavior they’ve witnessed, or trying to learn a new skill by practicing. Playing is processing experiences and thoughts, acting out situations and trying out behaviors in different roles.
Much of their physical, social and communicative skills develop through playing.
To play with them from time to time, preferably a little every day, give you good impact on their development. For three reasons: 1) you spend active time and attention on them 2) you learn more about them 3) you teach them important things, e.g. about how things are supposed to be done.
Playing together is an opportunity to learn about the world as seen through your children’s eyes. To learn about their thoughts and experiences. In the game you can join as an encouraging onlooker (or perhaps safety net, or rescuer from trees). You can join in, let yourself be directed by your child and just see where things are going.
Playing is also a way to put your values into account. You can direct a game and invite your child to come play with you. Or participate when invited yourself, and humbly suggest ideas to enrich the game. In role-play you can show how things may, or should be done (e.g. when you act customer in a shop, or a fantasy hero) – but allow the child to process the thought and possibly try on a flexible approach. After all – it’s a game, it’s meant to be a safe place for practicing and trying things out just for fun.
It’s all fun and game…
Some playful activities children engage in are a bit wild, involving playful wrestling, chasing and being lifted high up in the air by strong and loving arms of their caregivers. These games are perfect ways for kids to, in a fun and friendly way, get to know their body’s strength and limits, how to play fair, when to stop and how to surrender.
Playing with you, an adult, before playing with other kids, helps learning not to hurt one another. It is social competence 101, and it can be taught without children ripping each other apart in practice.
These games, but also the traditional hide-and-seek, provide a kind of unapparent closeness: the wonderful feeling of being sought after, desirable, valued enough to be chased! The child gets to be close without showing too much softness in front of friends. Happy reunions are also wonderful: from the seconds away in peek-a-boo, to the minute-or-so in hide-and-seek. It may be scary too: if you don’t find one another fast enough, nerves may be shaking. The young children will jump out of their hiding places before you’ve had the time to finish counting…
However, these games also have a backside. They need guidelines and supervision. As humans, we do have instincts, and when cornered, or influenced by group actions they may surface in unexpected and unflattering ways. In groups, we pick up the general feeling, and tend to go with it without hesitation or critical analyzing – may it be fear, aggression or depression.
…Until someone looses an eye
Swordfighting with sticks can cause harm quite easily. Challenging games makes kids try stunts they may not be ready for – or that are flat out dangerous. At one point or another the jump is just too high. Kids do have great imagination, and not always the bright minds to consider safety measurments when playing. I’ve seen kids going by bike straight down a couple of steep stone stairs, into a brick wall. That was not clever.
There are people in the surroundings that need protection too. When kids try out new stunts or play war by throwing pieces of rocks, they can hit someone. Younger children sometimes are in the way.
A playful chase can turn to a frightening and even dangerous hunt. The wrestling and fighting games may become part of bullying. A negative attitude in one member of a group often does affect the entire performance and attitude for the whole group.
We need to keep an eye on our children, but also the nature of their games. We need to say “Stop!” sometimes, try to make them think things through a bit. Or provide safety advice: check out the landing spots before they fall; Make sure there is nothing sharp and pointy in their hand or mouths when they run around; things like that.
Generally, I want my kids to understand the problems I see, because I want them to think for themselves later on, when I’m not around. It’s good to ask questions: what would happen if… Would this be a good place to fall / land or could you think of a better one? I know you are good at climbing, but what if you fell here, what do you think might happen? How can you do this in a safer way?
What we need to teach is the respect for, and understanding of, a “NO!” But also the choice of backing off, of going your own way or negotiating the rules.
Choose communication, and freedom of the mind!