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Child development experts have long known that children, especially very young children, learn best through play. Whether your kids realize it or not, their playtime helps shape their minds and habits just as much as, if not more than, traditional lesson time. As schools recognize this principle and try to restructure their schedules accordingly, it’s equally important for you as the parent to cultivate educational playtime.

Play is your child’s first form of real education. While you should still encourage academic learning from teachers or your own input, encourage your child in their imagination and playtime activities. With a good understanding of several key factors in playtime, you can make sure your child gets as much out of their free time as possible.

How can you teach your child critical social skills? They may already be learning a lot just by playing! Learn more here. Click To Tweet

Free vs. Guided Play

Free play is when your child picks toys out of a box and just lets their imagination run wild with scenarios. Meanwhile, guided play can be compared to bowling with the gutter guards raised. There’s a definite goal in mind, but your child is free to discover how to reach it on their own.

Both methods can help your child’s mental development. Free play encourages total creativity and inventing their own stories and ideas. Meanwhile, guided play encourages the child to use their creativity within a set of guidelines to reach a defined goal. Both skillsets are invaluable in the modern world! The more your child has a chance to experience both types of play, the better.  

Educational Toys

Trick kids into learning with some educational toys or games! Not only will handling toys from a young age help develop motor skills, but it will also encourage active involvement in future projects and education. For many children, play is a full-body activity. Make sure they have plenty of toys to keep them busy!

Pro Tip: Most of an educational toy’s appeal is that it doesn’t feel like schoolwork–it feels like playing! Your child will be more likely to play with these toys if you bring them out during playtime rather than during homework time.

Role-Playing

Remember pretending to be a grocery store clerk or a pilot when you were young? Kids love to imitate what they see their parents or other adults doing. Role-playing, also known as pretend play, can help kids get familiar with what other people do. Playing pretend can also boost a child’s confidence and problem-solving skills. Additionally, you as the parent can very easily get involved in your child’s playtime. Are they running a grocery store in the bedroom? Go buy something!

Benefits of Learning through Play

A 2002 study found that children who engaged in regular educational playtime, particularly role-play, developed superior cognitive development and communication skills than other children. Playing with parents was especially shown to increase mental health and an active imagination. And of course, any parent knows that playing with other children will encourage communication and social skills. The more playtime your child gets outside of traditional lessons, the better for their ultimate development.

Encouraging Healthy Playtime

Though there aren’t necessarily right or wrong ways for your child to play in their spare time, make sure your involvement is appropriate. Too much oversight can discourage your child’s creativity, while too little can lead to risky behavior or social detachment. Find a level your child is comfortable with. Additionally, remember that learning through play is an ongoing process. Make sure you can find time to spend with your child and their toys.

What was your favorite playtime ritual as a child? Connect with us to share your memories.

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