Fredericksburg Parent

May 2022

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www.FredericksburgParent.NET 27 PLAY IS HANDS-ON AND IN-PERSON Haskell said that imitation is learned best when children have physi- cal objects in front of them, and another person playing with those objects nearby so they can watch and imitate. "Imitating what they see on a screen is very different from some- body sitting in front of them with play-dough," she says. "In a world where you can YouTube anything, play still needs to be learned one- on-one with people. YouTube is not the same as a person sitting with a child and playing. The skills don't develop in the same way." The lure of technology has played a role in reducing the amount of time children spend in hands-on play, and in recent years, experts have sounded alarms about this trend. A growing emphasis on push- ing academic skills at a younger age is also crowding out play. A 2018 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics noted that "an increasing societal focus on academic readiness … has led to a focus on structured activities that are designed to pro- mote academic results as early as preschool, with a corresponding decrease in playful learning." But the social skills that come from that playful learning are what prepare children to listen to directions, pay attention, solve disputes with words and problem-solve as they get older. PLAY FIRST, AND ACADEMICS WILL COME After the past two years of life lived amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are report- ing stress and worry about whether their young children have fallen behind due to missed preschool years or time spent on screens while parents were working from home with no childcare. "Parents are feeling this huge amount of guilt that they haven't done enough, or they haven't done the right things" to help their young children developmentally throughout the pandemic, says Kelly Cook, Service Coordinator. This can lead many parents to seek out things like flash cards and pre-academic skill-building activities that children 3 and under just aren't ready for. "Those academic things are going to come," Haskell says, "but right now, just let a child be a child and play." A 2020 study published in the Journal of Cognition and Development found that block-building skills at age 3 are related to spatial skills at age 5. Having strong spatial skills was then linked to success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. But before your child even picks up a pencil, he or she will depend heavily on the growth that play promotes. "If kids aren't on the floor as toddlers, standing up crouching down, moving toys around, play- ing, as opposed to sitting still with an electronic device in their hand, they don't get a lot of the core strength development they need," says Haskell. "That many times moves into speech delays, because they don't have the big muscle movements they need to be able to move on to that smaller muscle development required for speech. KEEP PLAY SIMPLE Kids don't need a playroom overflowing with store-bought toys to be successful players. And they don't need to get a calendar invite to play for a set amount of time on specific days. "Play doesn't have to be a delineated time limit where we are going to sit down and start and finish a task," Lefler says. "The child needs opportunities to be able to explore and to be given things that they can play with." Those things can be items from around the house—which quite often are more interesting to kids than manufactured toys. Lefler likes to save toilet-paper tubes, which can be stacked, rolled, used as instruments, binoculars or other imaginative items. Cook says that kitchen items such as bowls and spoons, or sticks and pebbles from the outdoors can cap- ture children's imaginations if they are given the freedom and time to explore. Haskell suggests finding small moments of play throughout the day, such as letting a young child stir something you're making in the kitchen for a few seconds. PE-ID's providers use this same phi- losophy in the work they do in fami- lies' homes. They build play-based activities into family routines that are targeted to help children build the skills they need to minimize develop- mental delays. "Our goal as early intervention providers is to make it not feel like work," says Lefler. "We want to take the pressure out of it, and find activi- ties that can help them achieve their goals within their family routines." To learn more, call 540-372-3561 or visit

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