Play to Learn | About
Research shows that play really is a child's main job and the means by which young children learn. Play to Learn features many playful learning opportunities for young children ages 6 and under. Here are just a few examples of the many concepts children are learning while playing in the exhibit:
- Understanding of cause and effect when they turn the handle on the music box to hear the music and watch the knob bob up and down
- Communication and language skills as you and your child sing songs together while playing with the animal puppets
- Self-confidence when they master the new skill of being able to go all the way across the climbing wall without stepping down onto the floor
- Problem-solving skills as they use one of the metal milking pails from the animal area as a way to carry the balls up the ladder
- Understanding of symbols when they pretend that a block is another object, such as a car or phone
- Creativity as they use their imagination to build fairy houses out of blocks or pretend to take care of a pet rabbit
- Hand-eye coordination as they reach for and grasp a ball or rattle
For each way a child chooses to play in the exhibit, there are many opportunities to nurture the learning that is already taking place. The following are some tips for playing and learning with your child in Play to Learn:
Model language for your child. Talk about what you see and do in the exhibit and describe how the objects and materials look, feel, and sound. Also, repeat any new words your child uses. For example, if your child says “mirror” as she points to the mirror on the wall in the Gentle Zone, you might say, “Mirror - you’re right! You can see yourself in that mirror.” Using new vocabulary to describe their actions and experiences in the exhibit will help children build their vocabulary and understand the meanings of new words and ideas.
Follow your child’s lead. Provide an object for your child to play with in the exhibit and see what he does with it. Or see which areas of the exhibit your child likes to spend the most time. A child who thrives off action and enjoys physical play may be more attracted to the climbing wall and crawl tunnel. If your child is more creative and constructive, he may tend to focus on the building blocks or water-painting activities. Let him take the lead and he’ll let you know what types of activities are right for him. Children learn best when they choose activities that interest them.
Ask open-ended questions. To extend your child’s play and learning, try asking questions that don’t have yes or no answers. This helps your child develop his own ideas and learn to express them. Also, before you answer your child’s questions, ask what he thinks the answer is. You can eventually offer an answer, but allowing them time to think it through on their own is important for the development of their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Offer feedback. Observe your child as she plays and give feedback that acknowledges her ideas and actions. See what your child is trying to do or figure out as she plays and provide her with suggestions for extending that activity or alternatives to the problem she is trying to solve. Saying things like, "Tell me about what you are doing with that stethoscope" or "How did you get that ball to go into the blue cup? Can you show me again?" will encourage children to continue their explorations. Comments like, "I bet we could make an even bigger bridge out of the blocks! What should we do first?" will help children practice their problem-solving skills.
Have your child help clean up after they are finished playing. Teaching children to put away their toys teaches them matching and classifying skills; strengthens their color, shape, and size vocabulary; supports their understanding of part-to-whole relationships; reinforces their sense of organization; and helps them realize that things have a beginning, middle, and end. It may be helpful to break the clean-up process into manageable pieces, such as suggesting “You could put the food in this basket and then put the animals back in their cages.”
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If you're interested in finding out more about how play influences learning, check out this New York Times Magazine article (free registration required).
To learn more about supporting the healthy development and well-being of young children visit the ZERO TO THREE website. ZERO TO THREE is a national nonprofit multidisciplinary organization dedicated to informing, educating and supporting adults who influence the lives of infants and toddlers.
Playing for Keeps is a national not-for-profit organization that exists to help parents understand of the importance of play in their children's healthy development.