Dear Dr. Day Care,
I enrolled my four year old daughter in a new day care. During the tour, the administrator of the program suggested I should follow the philosophy of the school – teaching my child through play. What does that mean? I didn’t want to ask at the time for clarification, but now I am doubting myself. Don’t children play all the time? Am I doing it wrong?
Love to Play with my Daughter
Dear Love to Play with my Daughter,
Many child care centers are embracing the idea of learning through play, sometimes referred to as purposeful play. This simply means being mindful of learning opportunities that a child can gain during play time. When play has a purpose or adds value to a child it is referred to as purposeful play.
Some examples of this could be playing outside on a spring day and pointing out the flowers that you see. Count the flowers that will soon bloom and talk about the different colors of the tulips that are in the garden. Ask your daughter to count the red tulips and then to count the yellow tulips. Ask your daughter if there are more red or yellow tulips. Don’t forget to ask open-ended questions such as why some of the tulips are still green/haven’t bloomed yet. Listen to her words by reflecting back her thoughts and expanding on her response by adding more information about how flowers bloom. Later, read a book about flowers or plant some more flowers together!
Outdoor play is a unique opportunity for children to fully engage in purposeful play. Learning through play is children’s natural response to the environment around them. Children will experience motor skills like running, jumping, catching, and skipping. Outdoor play can guide social skills and relationships and children will develop problem solving skills, team work, cooperation, confidence, and of course gross motor skills during outdoor play.
You can engage your daughter in purposeful play any time by asking questions, reflecting on her choices, taking the time to listen, and supporting her as she explores and makes new discoveries.
All play can be purposeful play where children can learn. Children can learn the skills they will need to be successful when they have the opportunity to have meaningful play experiences.
Mary Ann Shallcross Smith
President, Dr. Day Care