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7 Play Based Learning Activities to Do With Your Child

Premier Academy, Omaha Nebraska

One of the wonderful things about being a parent is that you are your child’s first teacher.  You have the unique opportunity to open the door to the world; introducing your child to words, colors, animals and so much more.  Learning can be weaved into the day naturally as you read, talk, sing, and play together.  Mr. Rogers said it best, “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.”

7 Play Based Learning Activities to Do With Your Child

One of the wonderful things about being a parent is that you are your child’s first teacher.  You have the unique opportunity to open the door to the world; introducing your child to words, colors, animals and so much more.  Learning can be weaved into the day naturally as you read, talk, sing, and play together.  Mr. Rogers said it best, “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.”

 

When you engage your child in play, you are helping him or her to grow and to ignite a lifelong love of learning.  Through hands-on activities, your child will begin to pair the knowledge gained during previous interactions with the new information. This builds understanding and skills. This is also a helpful guide to use when you are visiting a new childcare center or preschool for your child to see if the staff is using play to teach their students.

 

Each time you play, you are adding another building block of learning.  So have fun and enjoy the time with your little one.  To get you started here are seven play-based learning activities to do with your child. 

 

 1. Play with a toy farm or house.

The next time your child is playing with a toy farm or house, sit down on the floor with them and begin to engage.  Start off just meeting them where they are; imitating what they do.  As you continue, you can start to naturally introduce words and concepts like inside, outside, on top, going upstairs, downstairs whatever occurs to you as you and your child are playing at the moment.  Maybe the doll is sleeping and going upstairs to bed, or the brown cow is mooing at the farm.   As you play alongside your child, asking questions, adding comments, and being interested in this shared interaction is when learning will occur.  Your child will also see how to use the toy productively.  Most childcare centers will have many different types of toys stored in bins with similar toys (i.e. all of the farm animals go in one bin together). When clean-up time rolls around, this helps the children conquer the art of matching and sorting.

 

Child Care Omaha Nebraska2. Make something together in the kitchen.

Figure out a kid-friendly snack that your child will enjoy eating and shop for the ingredients together. Choose something that matches your child’s skill level.  If your child loves fruit, cutting up a banana may be the place to start. It is important to keep it simple and fun for your toddler.  Try drawing out out the recipe in little pictures so your child can read the recipe too with you.  If you are making something like ants on a log, you can add some math by counting out the number of ants you are putting on the log.  They can even help you clean up.  If they are old enough, they can help at the sink, while younger children will enjoy a basin of sudsy water to clean up some toy dishes.  Many childcare centers have a designated “snack helper” where a child will be invited to assist a staff member in preparing the snack or meal for the day. Not only is this fun and makes that child feel special for the day, but it also teaches the child the responsibility and sharing with friends.

 

3. Get rolling with play dough.

That colorful dough you grew up with provides hours of fun and learning opportunities. You can make your own, as there are lots of recipes on Pinterest and in library books or bring home a few colorful cans of the store bought kind.  Kids love getting their hands in the play dough – rolling, squishing, stretching, molding, and sculpting.  Not only does this activity stretch the imagination as your child creates flowers, animals, bracelets and more, but all of that fine motor work is strengthening the muscles in his or her fingers in preparation for holding a pencil at school some day.  Gather some props from around the house to make things interesting.  Try cookie cutters, bottle caps, blocks, buttons, combs, birthday candles, straws, and leaves; whatever interesting things you have on hand that would be great fun to use making shapes and impressions.  While you are playing together or with siblings and friends, your child can learn social skills like taking turns and sharing.  In addition, playing with this childhood favorite builds language and literacy, science and math skills.  Who knew play dough was such a powerful learning tool?!

 


4. Play along. 

Premier Academy Omaha NebraskaWhen your child is playing dress up, caring for her baby doll, pushing a train, or pretending to grocery shop or baking some cookies, play along.  Why?  You will be helping to build abstract thinking.  Support your child’s learning by joining in play.  Using an object to pretend to be on the phone is actually a type of symbol.  And letters and numbers are abstract, so pretend play is one of the ways to develop understanding.  There are simple and affordable ways you can encourage pretend play.  Keep a box of dress up clothes, old costumes, and baubles and beads accessible.  Empty and tape up some of your cracker, pudding, cereal boxes for grocery store play.  Provide your child with crayons and paper to write their shopping list.  The act of creating the symbols, scribble or not, will build pre-learning skills.   When observing a childcare or preschool look to see if they have “stations,” like a house or a store set-up to encourage this type of abstract play with other children. 

 

Child Care Omaha, Nebraska5. Discover the outdoors.

Get outside to discover nature.  Take a walk, whether it is around the neighborhood or your backyard.  Exploration and discovery help children more fully understand the world around them.  With safety in mind, you can encourage your child to touch, lift, and look under a log or a rock and then carefully replace it as to care for the critters that may be underneath.  You can ask questions too.  Such as, what did you find? A bug?   Also, think about asking questions in such a way that it gets your child thinking and drawing conclusions from their previous experiences with you in nature. Incorporate senses like what you see, feel, hear or smell.  Was something soft or hard?  Were the leaves a different or same color the last time you explored?  Playtime at daycare or preschool is not only what kids look forward to all day but it’s prime time for building those social skills. Weather it’s taking turns on the swings or helping a friend build a sand castle, children will learn real life skills for interacting with their classmates that will stick with them for years to come.

 

6. Get sensory.

Did you know that those bargain-priced cans of shaving cream you picked up with your coupons can be used for sensory play?   Sit at the kitchen table with your child and squirt some of the foam onto the table for each of you.  Move your fingers through the foam, drawing letters, shapes, numbers, silly faces, whatever inspires you.  Encourage your child to do the same.  What does it feel like? Do you need more? Gentle prompts and questions will make this experience fun.  Sensory tables are very popular at many schools. These tables could be filled with dry noodles, water, sand or any other type of material. The goal is to get kids talking about what they see and how it feels.

 

7. Read together.

Yes, get out the books and read, read, read.  Don’t have enough?  The public library is always happy to let you borrow as many as you want. And they have age appropriate books for your child, from board books on up.  When visiting different childcare centers or preschools you should always make sure there are an abundance of books! You can also ask the facility if they change the books out regularly so the children are exposed to new topics regularly. Reading out loud to your child can also encourage a bit of play.  You can be silly, use funny voices, dress up like your favorite characters or cook up some other ideas.  Many a fun book has spurred related crafts and even snacks and games that relate to the book characters.  Try reading something like Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, Mary Ann Hoberman’s “The Seven Silly Eaters” or any number of Robert Munsch’s books like “Mud Puddle” or “Moira’s Birthday.”  They are fun, and your child will see you model reading, begin learning language, and most importantly, have cherished time with you.  

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