I came across this wonderful article on BABY CENTER and I wanted to share it with you all.
Questions covered here:
- Can you give us a few great ideas for games to play with toddlers and preschoolers?
- Which toys are must-haves for toddlers and preschoolers?
- Why are books so crucial, even at age 1?
- Any toys you don’t like?
- What about playing educational games on my computer, tablet, or phone?
- What other mistakes do parents make about play, in your experience?
- Why are preschool-age kids so obsessed with imagination games like pirates, pretend kitchen, and dress-up?
- My son likes to dress up and play with dolls – is that okay? What if my daughter prefers trucks, cars, and building sets?
- What if my child is obsessed with one thing, like trains or princesses? Should I go along with it or encourage other interests?
- Are there any games or activities that help teach patience and perseverance?
- I get tired of playing the same games over and over again with my child – what can I do?
- Is there a “magic” amount of play that young children need every day?
Relax, says pediatrician Lisa Dana, a BabyCenter medical advisor and blogger and mom of three. Playtime is important, but it needn’t be complicated, doesn’t require fancy toys, and is often better if parents butt out.
Here, Dr. Dana answers some of our pressing questions about play.
Can you give us a few great ideas for games to play with toddlers and preschoolers?
One of my favorite suggestions is simple puzzles. Puzzle play is great for building fine motor skills, and it helps with cognitive development (intelligence and problem-solving skills) and early math skills.
Games that teach music are also great for your child’s brain. Playing music helps kids develop a sense of rhythm and awareness of patterns, both of which they’ll need for math. So something as simple as banging away on a toy drum or xylophone is beneficial!
Blocks are wonderful because they help your child get a feel for spatial relationships, and they foster creativity as your child uses them to make towers and castles. Children also develop fine motor skills as they manipulate blocks into position.
Creative play is essential for older toddlers and preschoolers: Activities like dress-up and playing with a doctor kit or pretend tool belt are good examples. This type of role-playing is excellent for developing motor skills and problem-solving skills, and for teaching children how to share and play with others.
When preschoolers play dress-up, they have to negotiate with each other about different roles. They also have to take turns playing the “favorite” role – which may be teacher, parent, babysitter, doctor. These skills set your child up for success during the early school years.
Puppets are another great activity for preschoolers. They can make their own puppets from socks and set up a stage. This fosters imagination and social play, and helps with fine motor skills. It takes practice to get those little fingers into the puppet!
2. Which toys are Must-Haves for Toddlers and Preschoolers?
I like the classics: books, blocks, balls, and puzzles.A ball seems like a basic toy, but it has a big impact: It allows your child to play cooperatively and learn motor skills. Between the ages of 2 and 3, toddlers learn that it’s fun to throw or kick a ball to a playmate. They’re learning how to play with a friend and developing the coordination to kick and throw.Art supplies; musical instruments like tambourines, drums, and flutes; and dress-up clothes are good options. Preschoolers also love child-sized versions of adult tools and household supplies, like hammers and brooms. Many children love to “help” with sweeping, cleaning, and vacuuming because this lets them act like a big kid or grown-up.
It’s fine if your child prefers to play with things that aren’t actually toys. An overturned pot and a wooden spoon make an excellent drum set.
Books are my absolute favorites. I love the idea of giving a toddler a library card as a first-birthday gift.
3. Why are books so crucial, even at age 1?
Toddlers who are exposed to books early are more likely to be successful in school. They gain early exposure to words and letters, and they develop fine motor skills as they turn the pages of the book. Toddlers also learn to share their world as they point to the pictures on the page.
Children exposed to books early develop their imagination and problem-solving skills as they wonder “what will happen next?” They think about what will happen to the characters after the book ends. They develop empathy and will often identify with different characters as they listen to stories.
4. Any toys you don’t like?
I’m not a fan of electronic toys for toddlers and preschoolers. They’ll get plenty of exposure to apps, video games, and electronic toys as they get older. Try to avoid screen time during these first years.
5. What about playing educational games on my computer, tablet, or phone?
The American Academy of Pediatrics says no screen time until age 2, and after age 2, I recommend no more than 30 minutes of screen time per day. For every hour of screen time your child has, she should have an hour of outdoor free play.
At this age, a child needs to work on gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and socialization. That doesn’t happen when they’re using an app. And though some people might argue with me on this, I don’t consider the swiping they do on the screen to be helping with fine motor skills.
The child isn’t grasping or pinching, just sliding a finger across the screen. As a result, she may not be as dexterous as a child who’s picking up plastic building blocks and putting them together, or riding a balance bike.
I see young kids with electronic games in my office all the time. While I’m talking with the parent, the child is often head-down. These children look just like teenagers texting. They’re not engaging with the community or looking around their world.
When you see a child with a book, it looks very different. The child is engaged mentally and physically, not just hunched over.
6. What other mistakes do parents make about play, in your experience?
I find that parents focus too much on structured play. They try to micromanage their kids’ play and make sure they play the game the way it’s supposed to be played rather than letting kids use their imagination and make up their own rules.
Unstructured play is very important. Take kids to the park or playground and let them climb and explore. This helps kids with fine and gross motor skills, socialization, and problem-solving. At a playground, for example, they have to figure out who will go down the slide first and how to negotiate the monkey bars.
We worry too much about entertaining our kids. We need to give them more independence at the playground. We need to supervise them, but they need to be able to play without us helicoptering over them.
When it comes to toys, I also caution parents to not overwhelm their children with too many choices. Rotating toys is a good strategy.
When my children were toddlers, I would do an occasional toy swap with a mom in my play group. And after birthdays and holidays, I would slowly add in the new ones. If you put them all in the play area immediately, many toys are ignored, forgotten, or overlooked.
7. Why are preschool-age kids so obsessed with imagination games like pirates, pretend kitchen, and dress-up?
I think it’s because at that age, children have no limits imposed on them – no one has ever told them what they can and can’t do. Their creativity is huge if you foster it. I call age 3 “the magical threes.”
8. My son likes to dress up and play with dolls – is that okay? What if my daughter prefers trucks, cars, and building sets?
It’s really important to let kids play and explore with all types of toys. Preschoolers don’t know that in society’s view, Batman is for boys and Cinderella is for girls.
Recently I saw a 4-year-old girl for her annual checkup. She was wearing a pink dress, sunglasses, and black-and-red Spiderman shoes. She told me that her favorite color is pink, but that she needs Spiderman shoes so that she can run fast. I loved her explanation! Her mom exposed her to all types of toys and clothes, and she chose the ones that suited her.
9. What if my child is obsessed with one thing, like trains or princesses? Should I go along with it or encourage other interests?
Offer choices and take your child to environments where he can enjoy his specific interest in different ways.
For example, if it’s trains 24/7, try to find different ways of approaching that. Go to a local train museum or take a street car. This way you’re letting your child explore his passion while encouraging him to socialize with other kids, get outside, and have free play.
If your child is so obsessed with one interest that it prevents him from interacting with other children, talk to your child’s doctor.
10. Are there any games or activities that help teach patience and perseverance?
A great example of an activity that teaches patience and perseverance is the monkey bars. When children decide they want to learn the monkey bars, they often stick with it until they accomplish the skill.
I can’t tell you how many 4- and 5-year-olds come into the office with monkey bar calluses on their palms. It shows that they’ve worked methodically on a skill until they’ve really learned it.
11. I get tired of playing the same games over and over again with my child – what can I do?
Take your child to the park or a library. Let her play with other kids and don’t micromanage that play.
If the child isn’t in daycare or preschool, I recommend that parents go to the playground every day, if possible, and the library once a week for story time or a similar activity. This sets the child up for success in preschool.
Doing activities with your child doesn’t have to cost money. You can go to different libraries or public recreation centers. You can also take your child for walks and hikes outdoors. Let your child get messy with art supplies in the backyard or at a rec center.
I had one mom who told me that she “hated” the park. I suggested that she visit local museums and art galleries with her toddler. She started to love her outings with her toddler because she could show her son what she enjoyed.
If you’re going to spend money on an activity for your child, choose swim lessons. Most kids are developmentally ready to learn around age 4. This trumps all other activities: Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death for kids ages 1 to 4.
12. Is there a “magic” amount of play that young children need every day?
I believe that kids need at least two hours of play a day, with at least one hour of that being unstructured, free play. Also, I always remind parents to take their toddler to the library at least once a week for a story time. Those are my magic numbers.