By Emma Thomas – Full-time mum to a one-year-old, part-time blogger and writer, with a background as a Kindy Teacher/Director
We are approaching ‘Under 8’s Week’ and this year’s theme is Play, Playfulness and Engaged Learners.
Under 8’s week is an event initiated by Early Childhood Australia Queensland Branch and has been running for 60 years across Queensland. Each year a theme is chosen and schools, child care centres, kindergartens, playgroups, and community groups plan events to celebrate children who are ‘Under 8’. I have been to many Under 8’s Week events over the years and have always had a great time.
As a parent and teacher, I have been thinking about what this theme means to me. I love watching children playing, I love their focus and determination, I love the way they get so involved in what is happening, I love that when children play they are so engaged.
As parents, we have a special opportunity to foster play and playfulness for our children. Here are a few things that children need to be able to play:
Children need a supportive environment. They need a space to play which is physically safe and which is appropriate for them (no glass coffee tables, precious vases or statutes that can be knocked over!).
Children need toys and resources – but not too many at one time. It is great to rotate toys to keep things fresh and interesting.
Children need a variety of play spaces – indoors and outdoors provide different opportunities for learning and development.
A grown-up who is a safe base
Children need you. And often they need you close by! Sometimes your child will want you to be an active participant in their play and sometimes you will be an observer. Young children like to know that you are available if they need you. Children often engage in a ‘circling’ behaviour in a new environment. They will start beside their adult, venture out and then return to check-in. The next time they will go a little further as they gain confidence. Sometimes all our children need is a quick smile and a thumbs up so that they know we are still there.
When playing with children we need to balance observation and interaction. We know how to do the puzzle, build the tower or fix the game. But giving children the space to figure things out for themselves is even more rewarding.
Children need our permission to be noisy, get dirty and make a mess! Sometimes this is explicit spoken permission – “Yes you can go and play with the water and sand”. Sometimes it is just in the language we use. When I hear myself make a comment which might be negative “Wow! What a big mess” or “Wow! You are so dirty!” I try and follow it up with a positive one, “You must have been having lots of fun!” “You must have been working really hard at your game!”. I have seen children who didn’t want to get involved during playtime at Kindy because they were worried about getting their clothes dirty!
Time is important – it is important for us and it is important for children. You know that feeling when you are settled and getting some work done or reading a book, or halfway through a job, and the phone rings and breaks your concentration. We do this to children all the time, they are involved in their play and we swoop in with “nappy time, toilet time, food time, time to go!”. If we just take a few moments and observe we can see when there is a break in their play and engage them in conversation so they know what is happening next.
Sometimes I need to remind myself to be playful! It’s easy to get caught up in daily life and end up looking at our children with a frown on our face as we get them from here to there, get them fed, get them bathed, and get them to sleep. But there are so many moments for playfulness and fun in these ordinary and everyday moments! I just have to remind myself to sing a song, put on a funny voice, or make-believe. Our children are always inviting us to join them in play, we just need to be ready to accept.