Sometimes it can feel like we shuffle our kids from one activity to the next. What if all they really need is time for uninterrupted play?
Words and Images by Jenny Diaz | jennydiazphotography.com
During my career as an Early Childhood Educator, I had the privilege of working at a variety of different preschools. Many were terrific schools with good reputations and what were considered to be quality programs filled with extracurriculars and an academic filled schedule. However, not long into my career, something about this didn’t sit well with me.
What about the notion of letting young children explore their environment and have the opportunity to really dedicate time to their play? What about creating an environment to foster learning through play as opposed to a morning filled with required circle times, language lessons and music classes? Often our mornings felt like we were shuffling the children from one sitting activity to the next allowing them little time to really dive into anything and concentrate on what they wanted to do. Transitioning was an art form and often the staff members were left feeling exhausted trying to meet academic milestones.
One of my childhood heroes growing up was Fred Rogers. He had an amazing outlook on the importance of play in childhood.
He said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning, but for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
I strongly feel children are innate learners and need little assistance from adults in the process. You don’t have to look much further than noticing how curious young children are about their surrounding environment. Often they are opening and closing doors and drawers around the house and are more fascinated with “everyday objects” than their own toys. I think it’s not only important, but necessary to allow this curiosity to nurture itself.
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We’re so quick to want to show a child the “right way” to do something as opposed to just letting them be and work through the process on their own. I’m guilty of this myself at times. I often have to remind myself that play can be frustrating for children, but that’s okay. It's working through those frustrations that will benefit them the most.
So how do we support and encourage uninterrupted play in our kids?
Here are just a few ways of doing so:
- Choose open-ended play materials that foster continuous play.
An easy way to figure out what types of toys are best is to think of what might be considered “classic” or “old-fashioned” toys. Choose blocks, dress-up clothes or figurines as opposed to electronic toys. When buying a toy, consider if it will foster creativity and imagination.
- Avoid having too much background noise.
Try not to have the TV or loud music playing in the background as it may distract your child’s concentration. Instead try to opt for a quite environment or calm, soft music such as classical or instrumental.
- Play the role of the observer as often as you can, especially when you see your child really engrossed in play.
Magda Gerber explained it best when she said, “Do less; observe more; enjoy most.” When you become the observer, you allow your child the freedom they need to try new techniques, and problem solve while playing. Perhaps the best part is you get to marvel at what your child is capable of and watch that 'lightbulb moment' as it happens.
- Allow enough time for play.
Don't try to hurry your child or transition them while they are engaged in an activity. Whenever possible, wait until an opportunity for transition arises such as when they are finished with a toy or look up from what they are doing. Allowing a 45 minute period of uninterrupted play would be wonderful, although Dr. Maria Montessori found up to three hours is ideal.
- Get outdoors as much as possible.
You might be wondering when you could have time to dedicate up to three full hours of pure play for your child. Spending time outdoors is perfect for this. Playgrounds, parks and walking tracks are just a few places that allow opportunity for uninterrupted play. Allow your child to explore while you sit back and observe from a safe distance. Nature provides such a sensory-rich environment for children of any age that uninterrupted play will be a breeze.
There are endless benefits to uninterrupted play, especially in the early years and many ways beyond the ones I’ve mentioned to foster it. Next time you’re tempted to step in and help or show your child something without their asking for it, stop yourself and take a step back.
Remember to try and follow their lead and observe as often as possible, because after all, as Janet Lansbury once said, “Our child’s play choices are enough… perfect, actually."
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Jenny is a former Early Childhood Educator and Montessori teacher of 10 years turned photographer. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband, fur baby and 1-year-old daughter. She remains passionate about child development and education in the early years, and enjoys spending as much time outdoors as possible with her little one. She's on Instagram @jennydiazhomelife