There are few relationships in the world more natural than the relationship between children and play. Especially during infancy, toddlerhood and preschool, playtime provides much more than simple entertainment. Young children are inherently curious and imaginative, and creative play is how they explore and learn about the world around them. Parents and caregivers can help facilitate play-based learning activities by tapping into this process.
Play to Learn
Little ones’ rapidly developing brains turn the ordinary into extraordinary during playtime. Play, especially make-believe or pretend play, allows children to explore, imagine, create and interact with others. Pretend play promotes cognitive, language, physical, social and emotional development in children, helping to build a strong foundation for future learning.
The Primrose Way to Play
While children naturally play and explore on their own, guidance and adult interaction can help take their learning to the next level. At Primrose, our Balanced Learning® approach balances purposeful play-based activities with nurturing guidance from teachers to encourage curiosity, creativity, confidence and compassion.
It starts with meaningful learning experiences that are designed to engage children’s natural curiosity and problem solving skills. As they play, children learn to cooperate, share, take turns and communicate with their peers. Teachers may extend the children’s thinking through meaningful questioning, discussion and direct instruction.
Facilitating Play-Based Learning at Home
While children benefit from playing with others or by themselves, guiding make-believe play and play-based activities can challenge them to think outside of the box. Parent-child play is linked to competence, peer group leadership and cognitive development, but more importantly, playing together is great for bonding with your little one.
You will have fun helping your child learn through creative play. You can set the stage of a story, give a hint of what could happen next, add a cue to help the story progress, or model a skill for your child to use in her adventure. Ask questions and help her make or incorporate props to further develop stories, scenarios and play. Remember to follow your child’s lead and get down on her level when you’re playing together. You’ll be amazed at the ideas she offers. Below are a few play-based learning activities to get you started!
Finger Theater (Ages 0–4)
Act out stories using your hands, fingers and props to help you and your baby build stronger bonds as he develops language skills. Below is an activity and song that you can easily replicate at home.
- Cut out five construction paper flowers and tape them onto individual craft sticks.
- Place the flowers beside you.
- As you sing or recite the song, “pop” up a flower until all five are showing in your hand.
- You can also teach your little one the word for “flower” in sign language to use each time “flower” is repeated in the song.
Little Flowers Song
One little flower had nothing much to do.
Up popped another one; then there were two.
Two little flowers were smiling at a bee.
Up popped another one, and then there were three.
Three little flowers were growing by the door.
Up popped another one, and then there were four.
Four little flowers were glad to be alive.
Up popped another one, and then, there were five.
Five little flowers were happy as can be,
They danced in the wind so wild and free.
Pretend Animals (Ages 1-4)
Inspire make-believe time by reading animal books to your child, such as “The Runaway Bunny” by Margaret Wise Brown or “The Lion and the Mouse” by Bernadette Watts. Discuss and ask questions about the behaviors and appearances of different animals. After story time, crawl around on your hands and knees together while pretending to be different animals and making animal noises.
Grocery Bag Costumes (Ages 2-6)
Use large brown grocery bags you may have around the house to create costumes for dramatic play. Let your child lead as you act out different scenarios together in the costumes. If your child is older, you can also suggest writing a short play or story to act out.
- First, cut a neck hole at the bottom of the bag, then cut arm holes on each side of the bag close to the neck hole.
- Next, cut a straight line through the top layer of the bag.
- Help your child decorate his new vest with markers, crayons or paint.
- You can also make hats out of paper plates to go with your costumes.
Participating in make-believe and playtime with your child not only helps her develop, but brings the two of you closer together as you spend quality time creating stories, using your imaginations and learning. Enjoy bonding with your little one and the many special moments you have together on your pretend adventures. It will take you back to your childhood and all of the fun you had.