Transcript – It’s More Than Just Play: The Role of Play in a Child’s Life

Presented by Bliss Letang

Parenting Together Pathway, Trying Together

[ Music ]

>> Bliss Letang: Hello, my name is Bliss Letang. I am the Director of Early Learning Program Engagement at Trying Together. Trying Together supports high quality care and education for young children by providing advocacy, community resources, and professional growth opportunities for the needs and rights of children, their families, and the individuals that interact with them. You can stay up to date with Trying Together by signing up for our newsletter and following us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. This video is part of the Parenting Together Pathways, a series of session to provide high quality information on early childhood development to parents and caregivers in Allegheny County and surrounding areas. This session is entitled It’s More Than Just Play: The Role of Play in a Child’s Life. What is play? When you hear the word play, what does that mean to you?

>> Play is?

>> And then fill in your blank for yourself.

>> Fill in your blank for yourself.

>> Play is just about everything.

>> Play is complicated.

>> Play is spontaneous.

>> Play is discovering and learning.

>> Play is hard fun.

>> Play is life. That’s the goal, isn’t it?

>> Play is the best thing in our world.

>> My favorite way to play is on a musical instrument.

>> My favorite way to play is with other people.

>> With robotics.

>> Through movement.

>> With a great book.

>> By drawing.

>> In the dirt.

>> My favorite way to play is with my kids because they make me play.

>> I like playing with dinosaurs.

>> You pretend to have wings and you pretend this is your wing.

>> We often forget why play is important and how we played when we were growing up and why we find joy in it. It’s important for being curious. It’s important for adults to find time to play.

>> Do you feel a certain way when you’re playing?

>> I feel it’s a little happy.

>> Happy.

>> Happy.

>> Happy.

>> Happy.

>> Happy.

>> Happy.

>> Play actually makes me feel happy. Yeah, it gives me — it actually gives me a joy. It puts me like in my childhood so to speak, you know, because you’re always adulting.

>> Play makes me feel like myself.

>> Play makes me feel human.

>> When do you play?

>> Mm, at 1:00.

>> When it’s playing time.

>> I play every Wednesday and Thursday and Friday.

>> Why do you like to play?

>> Because my heart like to play.

>> Today we will play.

>> Today we will play.

>> Today we will play.

>> Today we will play.

>> Today we will play.

>> Today we will play.

>> Today we will play!

>> Bliss Letang: So we heard that play is fun. Play is the best thing in our world. Play is life and play makes us happy. Play allows children to use their creativity while developing imagination, dexterity, and physical and cognitive and emotional strengths. Play is important for healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact with the world around them. In that video we heard about a few different types of play. Play with music, robotics, drawing, playing with others, and play through movement. But let’s talk about physical play, pretend, symbolic, and object play, and play with games that have rules. Physical play. Physical play includes activities that use physical movement to allow children to use their energy. Physical play strengthens muscles and bones. It develops coordination and motor development. Through physical play, children use their bodies and minds to interact with their environment, materials, and with other people. They explore the limits of their body and of movement. Picture a toddler crawling toward his favorite stuffed toy or a little girl climbing the jungle gym at recess. Physical play is one of the most memorable aspects of childhood. We all have memories of playing tag or jumping on the bed or dancing in the living room and even as adults we reflect on those memories. Physical play creates those memories that remain with children as they grow into adulthood. Unrestricted play release stress in children and when children are allowed to play without a required outcome, they experience being in control. Being in control relieves stress. Physical play improves sleep and allow children to expend excess energy. Activities for physical play include jumping and running and tumbling and dancing. Children have a lot of energy and nap time is often easier when they have been allowed to use up some of that excess energy. Physical play encourages healthy habits that your children can carry through into adulthood. So, physical play is not just about strengthening bones and muscles. They are not just about coordination and motor skills. They are about creating memories, developing healthy habits that children will continue to use as they grow. So allow them to dance, allow them to jump, allow them to twirl because they are not just playing, they are learning. Let’s talk a little about pretend, symbolic, and object play. This is one of my favorite types of play. There are many benefits to pretend, symbolic, and object play. Pretend, symbolic, and object play is when a child uses an object to stand in for another object, for example, speaking into a banana as if it were a phone, using an empty cereal bowl as a steering wheel for a spaceship. Some chairs and a blanket are transformed into a tent. This type of play can introduce children to new and exciting worlds where nothing is impossible. Picture a child’s tea party. Most of us has had a tea party during our childhood. If you think about it, that child plans and executes their party. They have rules and they have roles that they assign to their party guest. They will sometimes even assign talking points. With a fun tea party, your child is learning leadership and decision making. They practice language and they explore and learn about what they like and what they don’t like. If you’ve ever attended a tea party without the correct attire, your child will let you know that you are not properly dressed and you’re breaking the rules and so they are learning to express their likes and dislikes. They’re learning leadership and they’re learning to make decisions. Pretend, symbolic, and object play encourages imagination and creativity. A simple cardboard box becomes a spaceship or an island that is keeping them safe from troubled waters. A hair brush is now transformed into a microphone and your child is talking or singing to an audience. Do you see a future architect when your child is building a fort with pillows and blanket? Well, in building that fort, your child is learning about structure. They are learning about math. For example, how many pillows would it take to hold up the blankets? By simply having a tea party or building a fort, your child is learning decision making skills and how things work in the world around them. They get to be creative and use their imagination while playing and having fun. Pretend, symbolic, and object play again encourages creativity and imagination. It allows your children to — it develops problem solving skills and thinking. So allow the children to pretend. Allow them to explore a whole new world through their imagination with pretend, symbolic, and object play.

>> Watch this scientist at work. What? You don’t see a scientist? You just see a baby playing? Well, look again. This baby is as much a scientist as Albert Einstein. Play is how children test their ideas and learn new skills.

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Play is children’s work. From day one, children are eager and determined to understand how the world works. Play is how children learn to communicate, problem solve and get along with others. Watch your child at play and you will see the kind of concentration, passion, and creativity that artists and scientists bring to their work. Think of the eight week old who learns about communication and the joy of close relationships as he smiles, coos, and gurgles when his mom talks with him. Picture a toddler using his body and mind to learn about concepts like in and out and how much he is loved all while wiggling through a tunnel. And then there’s the three year old playing pretend, developing her ideas, learning new words, using her imagination, and building friendships as she makes up stories with her peers. So encouraging your child’s play is one of the most important ways you can nurture her development and it begins on day one. When you show your baby interesting objects to explore with her eyes, you ignite her curiosity in the world around her. As your baby begins to reach out and grasp, he learns how things work through shaking, banging, and mouthing. She learns to push a button to make the toy move or to stack one block on top of another. Play also builds your child’s confidence and self-esteem as he learns to solve problems and make things happen. And in this second year, one major strategy children use in their play is imitation. Toddlers use their new physical skills and growing memory to copy how others do things. By the time children are 18 months, all that imitation leads to an amazing new skill, playing pretend. Soon, children can pretend a laundry basket is a car or that a blanket thrown over a table is a cave. So why is this important? The basket, the blanket, they are both symbols, stand-ins for the real thing. And understanding symbols is important because for one, the ability to read is all about using words, which are symbols. Words represent people, things, and ideas. And in math, numbers are symbols for quantities. Pretend play also builds social emotional skills. As young children make up stories and try out different roles, they learn how other people feel, think, and experience the world. This new perspective helps children become both good friends and good people. But the most important ingredient for learning through play is you. You matter. Research shows that play time with parents helps children learn. How you ask? In lots of ways. You build your child’s problem solving skills and confidence by giving him the chance to work out a challenge that comes up during play on his own. If needed, provide just enough support so that your child can accomplish the goal without doing it all for her. This lets her experience the mastery. You help your child build physical skills by presenting new challenges when you see your child is ready and you help your child develop her ideas and imagination by joining in her pretend play and encouraging her to develop a story. Studies also show that when parents play with their babies, babies play longer and develop better play skills than when they play alone. And children whose parents play with them regularly as toddlers are more likely to have better math and reading skills in fifth grade. Most importantly, when learning takes place in the context of loving relationships, children become eager lifelong learners. So the next time you sit down to play with your child, remember that with your help as your child is learning to play, he’s also playing to learn.

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>> Bliss Letang: Let’s talk a little bit about games with rules. Play that include games with rules introduces children to life lessons. It teaches what is allowed and what is not allowed. Children get to experience the joys of winning and they learn to try again or keep playing when they don’t win. Play with rules or games with rules can increase your child’s ability to focus their attention. When children are playing games like Simon says or hide and seek, they tend to focus their attention on what the rules of the games are. By playing games with rules, children continue to practice their social skills. They learn to play with others, take turns, they learn to share, and they practice patience. Whether its sports, board games, or any games with rules, children are learning. They are learning the importance of rules and they are learning to focus their attention and they continue to practice their social skills. So through play, whether physical play, symbolic, pretend, or object play, children are always learning. 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 and that is a quote by Fred Rogers. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the benefits of play. Play is learning. Children are learning to see and experience the world around them through play. They develop language and math skills. They learn to problem solve. Play reduces stress. When children are allowed to play without an expected outcome, it gives them a sense of control and with that control it reduces stress. Play allows children to explore their feelings and how to deal with those feelings. Play teaches social interactions. They learn how to share and negotiate. They learn compassion and empathy by witnessing how others interact. Let’s explore some myths and facts about play. Did you know that 90% of the brain is developed by the age of five? That means at a very early age, our children are learning. So let’s talk about some myths associated with learning and play. Play is something that professionals and caregivers use to fill time. There aren’t any benefits to play but children enjoy it. Myth number 2, academic skills are the most important element of early learning. At home and in early childhood programs, young children should be focusing on learning letters, shapes, and numbers. Myth number 2, for it to be beneficial, play has to have a purpose. It would be best if parents and educators guided the child through play and supervise the entire session. And myth number 4, you should wait until your child is a bit older to start playing. Babies are not old enough to play. Well, let’s look at some facts that counter these myths. Meaningful play experiences help your child build background knowledge, imagination, and a rational thought that enables academic skills. In fact, play is the primary way your child learns language and math concepts. In addition to learning academic skills, early childhood programs focus heavily on practicing social, emotional, and physical skills that supports children’s success in and out of the classroom. Fact number 3, while caregiver-child play is important, unsupervised child-led play helps children become independent and make decisions. And fact number 4 babies love to play. It is a great way to bond. Even a simple game of peek-a-boo can leave your baby giggling and smiling. So as we see here, it’s never too early for your child to play. Babies love to play and through play they continue to learn. How do you encourage play? Well, for starters, be face to face with the child that you’re interacting with. Come down to their level and be present when you’re playing with them. Observe the child’s interest and interactions. See what they are interested in and what they are drawn to. Do not put out too many toys. Allow the children to engage and enjoy whatever toy they are interested in at that moment. If a child does not know how to play yet, you should role play with them. Remember, play is an opportunity to bond with your child and if they don’t know how to play, you role play with them, you teach them, you show them, and you bond with them. Imitate the child’s play to support their growth socially, emotionally, and developmentally. Again, play is often learned through imitation. If your child does not know how to play, show them and imitate their actions so that they can continue to grow and develop. Keep play simple. Remember, children are still learning so keep play simple. Play does not need to be overcomplicated for it to be fun. Don’t just watch from the sidelines. Join in. This is an opportunity to bond. This is an opportunity to interact with your child. So join in the fun and show them that play is fun. Take turns. This is an opportunity to teach the children to share, to take turns, to be patient, and to wait. Again show them how to play. Introduce the child to new play ideas. And finally, expose the child to new experiences. Play is an opportunity to learn so let them learn and let them experience new things in this big world around them. When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and people who help us play that make the greatest difference in our lives. Remember that as our children play, they are learning. They are experiencing the world. They are developing all of their skills. So let us treat play as the serious business that it is for children. It’s so much more than just play. You can be an advocate for the children in your life by visiting any of these sites. Start Strong PA, Pre-K for PA, Childhood Begins at Home, and you can support our Public Policy Agenda by visiting this website. You can also find additional resources on play and the importance of play at any of these sites. Thank you for participating in this session. There are a number of other sessions available on the Parenting Together Pathway website for you to view. Additionally, there are a few resources that Trying Together provides for families. Allegheny Child Care, if you are a caregiver seeking care for early learning, after school, out of school, summer camp, and virtual programs, you can use this tool to search all available spots in Allegheny County. The Early Learning Resource Center Region 5, families can utilize the ELRC to gain information and services that support high quality child care and early learning programs. The Homewood Early Learning Hub & Family Center, families in Homewood or surrounding areas can utilize the hub and family center for activities for their children and individual and group support for parents. Developmentally Appropriate Parenting Series or the DAP Series, utilize the developmentally appropriate parenting series on the Trying Together website to navigate a variety of topics related to early childhood with new content added throughout the year. As part of the DAP Series, families can opt in to receive cards with helpful information mailed directly to them as they are developed. Please, to enroll in this program, please provide feedback on the Parenting Together Pathway series. Please view the link on this screen. Again, thank you for joining us. My name is Bliss Letang and I am the Director of Early Learning Program Engagement at Trying Together and remember when children play, it’s so much more than play. Thank you for joining us.

Parenting Together Pathway

The Parenting Together Pathway is a video-based learning series to provide high-quality information on early childhood development to parents and caregivers in Allegheny County and surrounding areas.

Learn more about the series.



Image: An early learning professional works with a young student to put together a puzzle of a young boy.
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