As your child’s first playmates, parents witness how play helps him/her discover ways to solve problems, develop language, and learn to cooperate with others. All children need activities that help them discover the world around them, and some need more help and more experience before they are ready to move to the next step.
Virtually all parents are busy and often tired, but adding play to daily care and activities makes them fun. Remember to include brothers, sisters, friends and grandparents in the action – oftentimes, children model other children more than parents!
- As children grow, they like to play with anything they see their parents using: measuring cups and mixing bowls, boxes to stack, or pans to bang. Toddlers, including children with special needs, love listening to tapes and looking at picture books. Pretending to be like mom and dad – playing ‘dress up,’ taking care of ‘baby,’ doing housework, hammering and repairing – are wonderful ways for children to begin playing with parents, siblings, and friends.
- Children love experimenting with water, sand, homemade play-dough, and paints. Stacking wooden blocks, knocking them down, and building them again is great fun. Outdoor play is exhilarating. Running, chasing a ball, and using riding toys help children build strength, endurance, and coordination. Children with physical limitations will need your help in adapting equipment, games, or play so that they can participate.
- For the child who has difficulty learning, toys that represent the real world are a good choice. Homemade photo albums of family and friends are a good way to talk about everyday happenings. Cause-and-effect objects, such as a flashlight or jack-in-the-box, help your child learn. Remember to give short explanations as you show how something works. Use familiar objects to count, sort, or describe as you grocery shop with your child.
- Be sure to find the right place. Watch for any sights, sounds, and handling that may over-stimulate your child and cause her to become distressed. Match the type and amount of stimulation to your infant’s moods, interests, and level of alertness. You may need to reduce the stimulation or offer just one source of stimulation at a time.
If your child becomes frustrated, substitute another toy or activity for the time-being.
Remember, every child learns at a different pace. Show appreciation for your child’s willingness to try, as well as for her successes, to build self-esteem. Learning to take turns and be a good sport when she loses are valuable social skills for every child to learn.