Prepping for healthy play

Today's children have mountains of toys, a full schedule of activities and digital content on demand...but do they know how to just "go play"?

Learning Stages

"We're bored," declare the children. "Well, go find something to do," say the parents. Our children have mountains of toys, a full schedule of activities, and digital content on demand...but have they forgotten how to play?

The New York Times article, "The Movement to Restore Children's Play Gains Momentum," has been making the rounds among many of my friends and bloggers. Play builds problem-solving skills, cooperation, creative thinking, impulse control, and more. Play is how children learn. And, shouldn't children just be able to have some fun?

Building play skills starts in infancy but many parents are anxious about how to play. Don't worry, there is no wrong way to play with your baby!

Infants will need parents as their play-partners but gradually you can encourage independent play.

Recently, a friend asked how I managed to work part-time from home without a lot of childcare. I explained that I worked during naps when my children took them but that about the time they gave up naps, they developed the ability to drift away and occupy themselves in little games and stories.

Choosing the right toys for your baby or toddler helps. Good toys should of course be well-made. They should also encourage activity, challenge without frustrating, and lend themselves to multiple play possibilities.

LeapFrog has some new baby and toddler toys that are perfect for both parent-guided, educational play and for independent, open-ended play. The Shapes & Sharing Picnic Basket and Count & Scan Shopper provide two play food options. These toys give parents ways to teach basic skills, like shapes, counting, and colors. Beyond those skills, though, there is plenty of opportunity for open-ended free play.

Toddlers love to put things in containers and take them out. They find this game endlessly fascinating and may not even notice that you've gotten up to do the dishes or check your e-mail. Part of the appeal is their growing sense of object permanence—"I put this in the basket—but it is still there!"

Older toddlers will have a great time role-playing.  They'll shop, cook, and picnic, just like their parents.

If you encourage imaginative play at an early age, you'll reap the benefits not just in more well-adjusted, more creative children—but also in more time between cries of, "We're bored, Mommy!"