• Heather Pawelkiewicz

The Importance of Play in the Early Years

This sweet boy is enjoying his playtime with the baby in the mirror.

April is almost over and soon it will be May and our calendars will fill up with graduations, end of the year parties, awards ceremonies and various other activities to celebrate the end of another school year. But what did your child learn throughout the year? Just take a look at the report card - spelling (or decoding, nowadays), reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and let's not forget the tiny spot in the report card (usually on the bottom and off to the side) dedicated to the students' behavior (i.e. conduct) and study habits.

Did your child make progress over the past year? Yes? Wonderful, your pre-schooler or kindergartener can read 126 sight words, can count with one-to-one correspondence, can use an iPad efficiently (oftentimes more so than an adult) and can write a short paragraph in several different genres. But, did your child make any friends? Were they able to resolve a small dispute on the playground verbally? Can they ask for help when needed? These are vital for your child's development, but you often won't find them on a report card. So how do children develop these skills without being taught? It's through play!

To quote Mr. Rogers, "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." So, when should children start playing? You can start playing with your baby at birth. Infants will learn about their body and environment through sensorimotor play; that is to say all five senses with the combination of movement. The toys included in the Our First Year backpack, along with the activity cards will highlight how to best enhance your child's fine motor, gross motor, speech, language and social skills. Sensorimotor play continues to be beneficial throughout elementary school, as the child becomes more aware of their body and how to control it better (Wolfgang 2017).

First grade student involved in sensorimotor play.

In addition to providing body awareness and information about the environment, play, particularly pretend play, is important for children to aid in understanding both pleasant and unpleasant experiences and to gain some control over their larger-than-life emotions (Wolfgang 2017). When children have some control over their emotions and simple vocabulary to use, they can then develop strong relationships with other children and adults.

A cute chain-snake; the end result of a very productive sensorimotor session.

Parents, please play with your baby. Put them on the floor (supervised of course) to discover their environment. Talk to your baby, narrate your day, make eye contact and facial expressions. You are your baby's favorite toy! Sing to your baby, read a book, make them laugh. Provide your toddlers with language and motor rich opportunities, such as visiting the park, the local library, a museum (yes, toddlers can enjoy Monet and Renoir too). Continue these activities throughout the elementary years and watch how your child's language and motor skills blossom, in addition to their patience, empathy, and disappointment when things don't go as planned.

So the next time you look at that report card, riddled with A's and B's, ask yourself if your child is also learning those crucial life skills, the stepping stones to becoming an understanding friend and a respectful citizen. Don't fret over those few sight words that didn't stick, or the math facts that were a little rusty, instead, embrace your child's growth in their play skills and the academic skills will follow.

To ensure successful playtime with your baby and get off to the right start, order your Our First Year backpack today. Toys with a's all in the bag!

#playtime #mrrogers #developmentalmilestones #languageskills #motorskills

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