Experts agree that unstructured play is vital to a child's optimum development. Play helps children develop imagination and creativity, practice problem solving and exercise their own strength and coordination. As your preschooler plays, she is actually gaining skills in the area of language, imagination and peer interaction.
While we don't need to teach our preschoolers how to play, we must provide adequate amounts of unstructured time. A 1998 University of Michigan study on children's time revealed that 75 percent of the average American child's weekday is programmed by adults (compared to 60 percent 20 years ago). As their lives become more tightly scheduled with one activity following another, many children feel bored when they aren't involved in a programmed activity or watching TV.
Here are some ways to encourage pure play for your preschooler:
Provide your child with plenty of unstructured time. Turn off the TV, limit computer games and avoid scheduling more than one or two activities per week.
Don't rush to provide some thing for a "bored" child to do. Encourage her to find a new activity or game on her own.
Study your child's play and interests and provide a prop or two. When one of my sons expressed interest in scuba diving, I strapped an empty two-liter pop bottle to his back. For days, his favorite activity was moving around the house on his belly, imagining all kinds of underwater creatures and adventures.
Read books to your child that relate to his current interests. This will provide fuel for his developing imagination.
Realize that unfinished projects are okay. Kids often pour energy and time into activities like building a fort or setting up a lemonade stand. Typically, they engage in the planned activity only briefly, or sometimes, not at all.
Remember, too many toys or developmentally inappropriate toys actually discourage play. Give your preschooler a cardboard box and a couple of crayons and you'll be amazed at what she comes up with!
?Faith Tibbetts McDonald
Educator, mother of three
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