Rethinking Child's Play
In This Article:
- Encourage and value play that is appropriate to the age and individual interests and needs of the children.
- Help children bring content from their own direct experience into their play. Children's play is usually more creative and less imitative when it grows out of their daily experience. For instance, providing empty food cartons and a simple toy cash register after a trip to the supermarket can help children get started recreating their experience in play.
- Watch children as they play to see what they are working on and what interests them. This can help provide ideas about what play materials and other input might help further develop the play.
- Choose new toys carefully. Toys that can be used in many ways usually promote the most valuable play. They give children many opportunities to invent new uses for them over time. Too many toys or a constant barrage of new ones can prevent children from doing this.
- Find ways to interact regularly (but not always) with children as they play. Getting involved with children as they play, as long as it is not so heavy handed as to interrupt or take over, can provide a gentle way to facilitate the play. It can also show children that adults value play.
- Try to have regular, uninterrupted playtime in a child's life. Whether playtime is three or five times a week, after breakfast or before bedtime, this tells children that play is important and valuable. It also helps them develop the skills they need over time to become involved in meaningful and satisfying play. For children who are heavily dependent on television, develop this routine gradually and help children figure out how to begin their play.
- Create and equip environments that help children get started with and sustain meaningful play. Organizing toys so children can easily see what is available, get what they want, and put them away can help them become independent and resourceful players. Put popular toys in clearly marked containers (with pictures) on easily reachable shelves.
- Work to counteract the gender, racial, and cultural stereotypes and violence that characterize many toys. Stereotypes limit children from developing their full potential. Children sort out who they are and similarities and differences among people in their play. Keep this in mind when choosing new toys and try openly talking with children about these issues when they come up. When children do engage in violent, imitative play based on TV shows or movies (or use the toys connected to them), help them bring into the play their own ideas, creativity, and imagination. Adults have differing ideas about this kind of play. Some try to ban it; others take a laissez-faire approach. Most kids, especially boys, do try it out in some form. However adults view this kind of play, the more they can help children's play become creative, the less violent it will be.
- Make thoughtful choices about the role of media in children's lives. What and how much children see in the media can have an enormous impact on their play. Television time takes time away from play activities. Media content greatly influences the play. So, try to play an active role in managing the media in children's lives; for example, develop rules about screen time and screen content.
- Work with other parents, teachers, and the wider community to create an environment for children that supports creative, productive play.
While it is unfortunate that in today's world of increased time constraints, parents and teachers need to take a more active and deliberate role in ensuring that children's play meets their needs, in the long run their efforts will pay off. Children will demonstrate increased levels of independence, resourcefulness, and competence as a result of creative play.
This article is from the November 1999 issue of Our Children, the official magazine of National PTA®.
Diane E. Levin, Ph.D., is professor of education at Wheelock College in Boston, Mass. She is the author of Remote Control Childhood? Combating the Hazards of Media Culture, and co-author of Who's Calling the Shots? How to Respond Effectively to Children's Fascination with War Play, War Toys, & Violent TV. She has written and lectured widely on children's play.
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