6 Kinds of Play to Increase Your Child’s Learning Capacity During Social Distancing
Dr. Debmita Dutta MBBS, MD is a practicing doctor, a parenting consultant, and the founder of WPA whatparentsask.com She conducts workshops on parenting for schools and corporate organizations. She is a well-known thought leader in parenting. Her books on parenting are published by Juggernaut Books and she is frequently quoted in national and international publications of repute. She is renowned for her empathetic and compassionate approach to parenting and her application of physiology and brain science to parenting.
Types of play to increase your child’s learning capacity.
- Free play
- Rough & tumble play
- Pretend play
- Dramatic play
- Game play
The effects of social distancing on children are disturbing. Once happy children are now irritable all the time. Once curious children are now reluctant learners who refuse to look up from their devices. And most of them exhibit rapidly deteriorating social skills.
The isolation we are imposing on children because of the pandemic, is helping them survive the virus. But it is evidently not allowing them to thrive. Merely surviving without thriving however, is unacceptable. Because thriving and surviving are intricately linked.
A thriving child is happy, curious, friendly, and eager to learn. And a child who is eager to learn will survive through anything.
As the pandemic stretches out - it is vital that we shift our focus from surviving to thriving, so that our children remain enthusiastic about learning. Because the world is changing rapidly. And survival in the long run will depend on the capacity to learn.
Children thrive when they can play. Unfortunately, in the past months, our preoccupation with surviving the pandemic, has made us trivialise play. And this has impacted children’s learning capacity. But it is not too late.
What can we do to help kids to thrive? We can begin now and schedule different kinds of play into the day to build brains that are eager and ready to learn.
The 6 kinds of play that can increase your child’s learning capacity.
- Free play to build self-esteem and motivation.
High self-esteem is the most important prerequisite for learning. Your child must think “I can”. Unfortunately, many children begin to think “I don’t think I can” when they live isolated and indoors for long periods. This thought is reinforced by constant scrutiny, instruction, and criticism from well-meaning parents.
The remedy is - free play. Play that is child initiated and has no structure and no rules, has the magical effect of building self-esteem and motivation. Because it gives your child the power to make decisions without the fear of penalty or failure.
Advice: Allow enough judgement free time for free play every day.
- Object-play to lay the foundation of STEM skills
We learn because we want to solve problems. And we must believe that we can solve problems to be enthusiastic about learning. We must believe that we are capable of estimation, analytical thinking, and numerical reasoning. All of which are STEM skills.
Of course, many STEM skills are learnt in school, but the foundation of STEM skills are laid by object play. Every object is a potential STEM lesson. Especially when it is in the hands of your child. Because it then turns into a toy.
Whether your child just fiddles with the object, uses it imaginatively to represent something or uses it to construct something - playing with any object teaches your child STEM concepts. Concepts like ‘in’ ‘above’ ‘bigger’ and so on are all STEM concepts.
Advice: Give your child open-ended toys like building blocks to help them develop STEM skills.
- Rough and tumble play to relieve stress.
It natural and normal for children to get angry with their parents when they are reprimanded for something. And when children are home all day with busy, over-worked parents, they are usually reprimanded often. This results in a lot of anger.
Anger needs an outlet – otherwise it blocks the thinking brain and obstructs learning. Children find an outlet for their anger when we engage with them in playful wrestling, tickling, chasing and so on. The freedom to fight without causing hurt, relieves children of the guilt that they feel because of their anger and increases bonding and security.
Advice: Engage with your child for a few minutes of rough and tumble play 3 or 4 times a day.
- Pretend play to learn reading and math skills.
When we use a letter to represent a sound, a word to represent an object or a numeral in math to represent a quantity – we are using symbolism. In other words – we are pretending. Children need to practice creating and using symbols to become proficient in reading and math. And they do this effortlessly during pretend play where a block is sometimes a car and sometimes a cake.
Pretend play helps children visualize things. And this helps them grasp abstract academic concepts like atomic structure at a later stage.
Advice: Join your child in pretend play. Support pretend play with props and by asking appropriate questions.
- Dramatic play to learn empathy and social skills.
The basic purpose of education is to learn to look at the world from another person’s perspective. And that is why good social skills and heightened empathy are essential for learning.
Will children lag in social skills because of social distancing? Not if we facilitate dramatic play using dolls for them.
Thanks to a recent study we now know that when children play with dolls, they use the same regions of their brain that they use when playing with other children. During dramatic play, with dolls and soft toys they can empathise with their dolls, treat them like friends and almost negate the effect of social distancing.
Advice: Create a dramatic representation of possible real-life situations using dolls and talk about emotions they could be experiencing as you play.
- Board games to build executive functioning skills.
To perform at school and in life, children must do the right thing at the right time without getting distracted. This is made possible by the executive function skills of the brain.
Board games are a wonderful to practise doing the right thing at the right time without getting distracted by others and help build this important skill.
Advice: Bond over boardgames at least once a week.
Different kinds of play strengthen different parts of the brain. Use the magic of play to build your child’s brain and learning capacity. And watch your child transform into an enthusiastic learner.