Let’s Go Play!

Author: Krista Flack, MS OTR/L

Let’s Go Play!

Playing is one of the most important jobs that children have; not only is it fun, but it can be very educational. While playing, children learn a variety of skills, like manipulating parts, maneuvering through their environment, problem-solving, social skills, and communication. While individual play is very important to foster independence and a sense of self, this blog is going to focus on the benefits of group play.

Toddlers often begin participating in parallel play – they sit near each other, and may or may not be playing with the same toys. In parallel play, children do not share, turn-take, or influence each other’s play. Still, this is an important developmental stage, as children observe each other and learn new ways to play with toys, they begin to interact, moving into associative play.

In associative play, the focus of play becomes each other, rather than the toys. Although usually lacking structure, children in this stage make an effort to be involved in each other’s play, even if playing by different rules.

Cooperative play comes last. In this stage, children play together, with a common purpose. Whether it is make-believe (playing ‘school’ or ‘house’) or a structured game with rules (freeze tag, soccer, etc.), children begin to be interested in both the activity and the socialization, which opens up many learning opportunities!

Whichever stage your child is in, or even if they fluctuate between two stages, it is important to give them opportunities to play with same-age (and same-stage) peers. Here are some ideas for getting out to play!

• Summer day camps can be a great opportunity for children to participate in play with peers. Check out this previous blog for some local summer camps; it’s not too late to sign up for some!

• Go to the park! Encourage your child to play with other children there. Tag, hide and seek, and other group games are quick to learn and it’s easy to add more kids into the game as they come and go. Swinging, climbing, and sliding provide great sensory input and give children an opportunity to practice gross motor skills as well!

• Look for local events at the library. Many events are age-specific, so you’re sure to find children there that are close in age to your child.

• Be on the lookout for events and classes that become available. CrossFit Port Royal Sound offers Kids CrossFit classes; first class is free to try it out. Plus, this can be a great heavy work option for kids! Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Michael’s offer free or low-cost kid’s craft projects.

• Sign up for team sports through PALS Team sports are great for learning cooperation, teamwork, sportsmanship, and other important social and life skills.

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