When is a Kindergartener not a Kindergartener?

By Fran Lartigue, Ready4K content manager

A: When he’s a burrito!

When my son was in kindergarten he would wrap himself in a blanket and proclaim that he was a “burrito” and I should come and eat him up.

The first time he did this I smothered him in hot sauce and gobbled him up – i.e. smooshed, tickled and hugged him until he was laughing hysterically. Our little pretend play game grew, and pretty soon I was adding all kinds of necessary condiments. Dollops of guacamole & sour cream, different sauces, sprinkles of cheese. Sometimes weird ones too – a scoop of ice cream and a few strings of spaghetti. But it always ended the same way – smooshes, tickles and hugs with hysterical laughing.

I enjoyed our pretend play game; it was lots of silly fun. Who doesn’t love to make their child giggle with delight? I also loved it because it was one of the ways my young son “asked” for my attention. When he was feeling lonely, sad, frustrated, or maybe just needed a hug, he would become a burrito. A clear and definitive call to me to engage with him in the way he needed in that moment- yet it was also play.

The play of children is amazing that way. If we spend just a moment thinking about it, we’ll be reminded of just how magical and important play is for all facets of kids’ development. Because play matters!

The Work of Children

When children play, on the surface it can look like they’re just having fun. It can even look silly and carefree! But in the field of early childhood education, we know kids’ bodies and minds are doing significant work.

Right from birth, play helps children develop physically, emotionally, and cognitively. It supports the development of social skills, creativity and communication. In the early years it’s how young children engage. How they begin to understand the world around them. Kids do some of their best learning through play. So let’s dig in.

There are lots of different ways children play based on where they are developmentally. It starts with solitary play for infants and toddlers and eventually leads to cooperative play as children mature.

Kids can engage in different types of play, ranging from the unstructured creative play to the more structured and rule based games. Play can be child directed. This play acknowledges that kids are the experts when it comes to play. Adults can come along for the ride!

There is also grown-up-led play, which is also beneficial in its own right. A rousing game of peek-a-boo makes it easy to realize. I’m of the opinion that when it comes to kids, all types of play are good! I’m also of the opinion that now more than ever we need to find ways to support and promote play to families.

Setting the Stage for Great Play

Let’s face it, the world feels challenging right now! Families are dealing with pandemic, financial, social and emotional burdens and stressors. That means it can be a real struggle to create a home environment that supports children’s learning and mental health. It also means that now more than ever kids need to play!

Play matters for children’s growth and development. It also helps them develop key overall skills and resilience. The ones they’ll need to navigate an ever-shifting world like the one we are all living in.

Don’t worry, I am not suggesting that we ask parents to do even more than they are already doing!

Here at Ready4K we specialize in building learning into the everyday routines and daily moments of family life. Oftentimes that means some form of play.

Play for Infants

In our infant program we focus on ways to connect with babies through play. These activities also encourage physical development and learning.

FACT: Playing peek-a-boo helps babies learn that objects continue to exist even when we can't see them.
TIP: After you strap your baby into their car seat, play a game of peek-a-boo.
FACT: Giving your baby something to push their feet against is great for growth.
TIP: At play time, place your baby's feet against your thigh. When they push, their whole body will move.
Play for Toddlers and Preschoolers

 As babies grow and develop, their play does, too!  Toddlers and preschoolers are natural explorers and experimenters.  Child-directed play becomes crucial to building their cognitive, social and physical skills.

At this age we encourage parents to follow their child’s lead as they play. We suggest ways to watch, listen, and talk about the things their child chooses to do. This can make play even more meaningful and fun. Imaginations are sparked with ideas for stories and pretend play.

FACE: Toddlers learn through play. It's how they discover the world. When you follow your toddler's lead as they play, you encourage this important work.
TIP: After a nap, offer a block or plastic cup for your toddler to play with. Watch as they use it in different ways.
FACT: Children do some of their best learning by playing pretend. When kids pretend, they show feelings, try new things, and build thinking skills.
TIP: During playtime, take out a blanket or towel. Pretend it's a cape and be superheroes.
Play for Kindergarteners and First Graders

By the time children are in Kindergarten and First Grade their ability to play both independently and with others has increased dramatically.  Kids’ play becomes far more elaborate. They are exploring ideas and using their communication skills to develop stories and role play. Their ability to manipulate objects of all kinds makes building and creating an ideal activity. 

With an increased ability to understand sharing and turn taking, kids this age can enjoy games. Play matters for keeping these key skills growing while having plenty of fun together.

FACT: When you play turn-taking games (like toss), your child learns patience and cooperation.
TIP: As you make the bed, pause for a quick game of Pillow Pass.
FACT: When kids build with blocks and everyday objects, they build math skills.
TIP: Give a fun building challenge before you clean up. Chan your child build a bridge using things they find around the room?
Play for Elementary Age Students

As academic demands grow, as well as other organized activities, it can be a challenge to make play a priority for children in second grade and beyond. Play at this age is just as important! Cognitive and physical development benefit from play, and social emotional development may benefit even more.

Incorporating play elements into learning more complicated concepts is a great way to engage children in the learning. Play can be a test of a kid’s social skills. It offers practice and opportunities to grow their ability to cooperate, listen, and compromise.

That’s why our messages for 1st through 4th graders also include activities that build learning through fun activities. This reminds parents to encourage and engage in play as a way to connect and have fun with their kids.

FACT: One way to help kids work through hard situations and stress is to get them moving.
TIP: In the afternoon, go outside and get moving! Who can be the first to race to 4 things that are green?
FACT: Your child is doing tons of big learning at school. Carving out time for them to PLAY each day helps them relax, recharge, and grow!
TIP: At some point in the afternoon, set aside technology and care out some time to play. Your child might love to play a game of toss outside or build a fort out of sheets.

Keep Up the Great Play!

Play isn’t the solution to all the challenges educators, families and children are facing these days, but it needs to be a piece of the puzzle. We’re all working to help families navigate a landscape that has been filled with so much upheaval and loss. Play is an easy and natural way to help.   

Looking for more resources to help families build play into their day? We’ve got you covered!

Here are a few great resources that we think will spark play in kids of all ages:

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