Play while a simple word has many complex layers. When researching play, you soon realise we have so much to learn and awareness to raise around the benefits that it has in a child’s development physically and emotionally. Play allows children to explore, identify, spark wonder, take risks and create meaning. So let’s explore some go-to-play activities that will allow our littlest members to evolve in a safe environment.
While there are many types of play, I have chosen three to showcase where we are able to introduce whole body integrated movement in a fun way:
- Movement Play
- Constructive Play
- Games Based Play
When planning, supporting and reviewing play, there are some simple guidelines to ensure each child is included, supported and safe:
- Spark wonder in children
- Give choices
- Strength spot
- Give space to explore and make mistakes
- Create a safe supportive environment
- Set, clear and explicit rules/expectations
- Have a mix of both structured and unstructured play
Spark Wonder in Children
Curiosity is a child’s inner desire to learn. It is their enthusiasm to explore, discover and get creative with problem solving or simply figuring things out (Zero to Three, 2010).
When planning and supporting play, there are some simple things you can do to spark wonder and curiosity:
- Model curious behaviors – show interest yourself when working with children.
- Follow their lead (safety comes first of course), but allow them to explore. Don’t overbear or try and perfect an exercise.
- Ask open ended questions and let them develop their thoughts and ideas in a supportive environment.
- Create an interesting space that continues to spark wonder. Change it up regularly!
- Don’t discourage - allow children to safely explore the things that they have shown interest in.
- Allow time for unstructured play so they can develop new skills. Continue to develop their problem-solving skills creatively.
Allowing children to make decisions encourages them to create a strong sense of self. It allows them to come to understand that they are actively contributing to themselves and other’s experiences. Involving them in decisions is a great way to ensure that they can pursue their interests and meet their needs. Choice allows them to explore themselves, other people and the world around them. (National Childcare Accreditation Council, 2009).
Tip: Ensure not to overwhelm with choice. With younger children give choice out of a couple of things.
“Identifying and cultivating strengths in young children inspires appreciation for who they are and ignites their senses of possibility” (Elizardi, 2012).
When children are playing is an ideal time to strength spot. Listening to their stories and observing them when they are playing with other children will allow you pick up on their strengths, as they will show us by their actions at a young age (Elizardi, 2012).
Give them the opportunity to try a range of different types of play and activities. See where they find a state of flow. Nature, dance, music, art, sports, etc. allows them to explore their strengths in different environments (Elizardi, 2012).
Spotting an encouraging the use of their strengths will allow a child to develop a strong sense of self, build resilience and capabilities to work through challenges. It will also allow you to build strong rapport, connection and relationships with each child as you are showing your appreciation for their uniqueness (Elizardi, 2012).
Give the Space to Explore and Make Mistakes
Let children fail forward! Failure allows children to learn about themselves.
Let them play with new things and get it wrong, as this allows them to learn resilience. Mistakes help a child come to understand their capabilities (Newman, 2015).
Tip: Support autonomy. By always stepping in and doing things for them sends the message that we do not trust in their capabilities and we do not think they are good enough. If you need to intervene, give hints don’t take over (Newman, 2015).
Create A Safe Supportive Environment
A safe environment for children to play should provide (Child Australia, 2012):
- A sense of belonging
- Emotional security
- Safe risk taking opportunities
- Stimulating resources and materials
- Experiences based on children’s interests, needs and strengths
Set Clear Rules and Expectations
Children need know what you expect of themselves to behave appropriately, so setting clear rules and expectations is a must. Ensure to be firm, but supportive. As young children are still learning boundaries and how to be in the world, gently remind them, as they are likely to forget (Kids Matter, 2017).
TIP: A great way for children to take ownership and respect rules and expectations is to allow them to help make the rules and set expectations.
Have a Mix of Both Structured and Unstructured Play
Having a mix of both structured (has rules, boundaries and equipment) and unstructured play (free play, or where the child leads) is important.
Unstructured play allows children to learn to work in a team, to share, improve negotiation skills, practice resolving conflicts, and how to voice their opinions. When play is child led, children are able to put into practice their decision-making skills, work at their own threshold, explore new areas of interest, and find their own states of flow (Ginsberg, 2007).
Unstructured play helps to build active healthy bodies. It has even been suggested that it can be a way to increase physical activity levels in children (Ginsberg, 2007).
Structured play is a great way to help children develop new skills appropriate to age while having fun. Being more “facilitator-directed” provides a better opportunity to build closer bonds with the child to continue to create that safe, supportive place to evolve (Rock, 2017).
Next, we will review some go to play activities, both structured and unstructured, you can use in your kids club.
Stuart Brown talks about the concept of movement play, he states that “through movement play, we think in motion. It lights up the brain and fosters learning, innovation, flexibility, adaptability and resilience’ (Brown, 2010). Play through movement may provide opportunities for children to fall in love with movement at an early age, thus helping to combat the top health concerns that children of this generation are faced with.
What you need:
- A big communal piece of paper
- Drawing equipment
- If outside tape it down to secure it to the floor
- Freeform boards/skateboards OR they can army crawl on the floor
Unstructured Version – allow the children to go and choose their own colours and space on the paper. Observe as their creativity takes over.
TIP: If you find that the children are hesitant, shy or not engaging, jump on the paper along side them and draw it will make them feel safe and supported to join in!
Structured Version – Give the child a choice of colours and then set clear instructions. Lay down on the FreeFORM board, and use your crayons as if they were your hands to drag you across the paper. Be aware of other children do not kick or crash into themselves as you move around the paper! Model, then step away allowing them to explore with the instructions given to them. Let them have the chance to make mistakes. Give hints if they need more guidance.
TIP: While we used FreeFORM boards, you can use any device with wheels, mini skateboards, you could even just have them army crawl around.
“Constructive play is where children manipulate their environment to create things” (Child Development Institute, 2012). This type of play is particularly important for children to become empowered and create a strong sense of self through experimenting with objects to create things. This leaves them feeling as though they have achieved something by being in control of their environment. This is where they explore what worked, what didn’t work, and basic skills of problem solving.
What you need:
- Collection of twigs, sticks, rocks, leaves
- Plastic bugs or animals
- Enough small containers one for each child
Unstructured Version - Leave the nature collection in a pile and watch as the children start to construct using the different pieces. You may see them start to build things or organise them into shapes, colours or types!
TIP: Ensure to keep a close eye on them as they play, as rocks and sticks can become hazardous. If you are not comfortable using nature, use blocks, like Legos instead.
Structured Version - Split the collection up into different boxes or containers. Hand out to each child and ask them to choose a bug or animal. Using what is in their box, have them build their animal or bug a home.
TIP: Again, if not comfortable using sticks and rocks, get out the blocks and split up to put in the containers for construction of houses.
Games Based Play
Allowing children to engage in game - based play is to help them come to learn and understand the nature of boundaries and rules. It also helps them understand as they grow that life comes with rules to abide by in order for society to function. (Child Development Institute, 2012).
What you need:
Hand out cones to all the children and ask them to run and place them wherever they feel like leaving them. Have them all come back to home where you are and explain the rules of the game.
They are to run out and grab ONE cone, then come back and put it in a pile. They continue until all of the cones are back at home base.
TIP: If there are some children that are shy or not engaging team up the children in pairs, one more confident encouraging child with a less engaged child.
Chase the Tail
What you need:
- Some fabric cut into strips or cheap TheraBand’s
Allow the children to choose their ‘tail’ and explain the rules for the game.
The tail is tucked into the back of the pants, but only THEY are allowed to do that. No one else is to attempt putting another child’s tail on. Then, chase everyone around trying to steal their tail. When the tail gets pulled off, they can pop it back on and continue the game on a timer. When the timer stops, everyone has a break.
TIP: Ensure that NO bands or fabric are around children’s necks (sometimes they think it a nice place to store their tail). Always supervise this activity. If you’re not comfortable having the children tucking the tail into the back of the pants, it is really easy to have some fabric belts made up with Velcro to secure around the waist. Then have Velcro anchor points for a tail to be attached to it.
PLEASE NOTE: I filmed with what I had in my environment to show the endless opportunities to create play activities. It is very easy to manipulate these activities to suit the needs of your kids club and based on what you have in your environment. Always ensure that safety comes first and that you are there supervising. Ensure to adhere to the company’s procedures and policies when programming play activities.
While play can be very complex, it is also incredibly simple to apply. By following the simple guidelines and continuing to educate ourselves on play, we will be doing our part to instil healthy habits and contribute to the development of the next generation.
Zero to Three. (2010). Tips on nurturing your child’s curiosity. Retrieved from: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/224-tips-on-nurturing-your-child-s-curiosity.
National Childcare Accreditation Council. (2009). Supporting children’s development. Retrieved from: http://ncac.acecqa.gov.au/educator-resources/pcf-articles/Supporting_Children's_Development_Making_Choices_Mar09.pdf.
Elizardi, E . (2012). See me beautiful: Cultivating strengths in young children. Retrieved from: http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/elizabeth-elizardi/2012092024191.
Newman, S. (2015). How allowing children to fail helps them succeed. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons/201508/how-allowing-children-fail-helps-them-succeed.
Child Australia. (2012). Create the perfect play space: Learning environments for young children. Retrieved from: http://www.ecrh.edu.au/docs/default-source/resources/ipsp/Create-the-perfect-play-space-learning-environments-for-young-children.pdf?sfvrsn=12.
Kids Matter. (2017). Making rules and setting limits. Retrieved from: http://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/mental-health-matters/social-and-emotional-learning/managing-behaviour-making-rules.
Ginsberg, K.R.. (2007) The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119(1), 182-191.
Rock, A. (2017). What is structured play for young children. Retrieved from: https://www.verywell.com/structured-play-2764980.
Brown, S. (2010). Play. North Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Scribe Publications Pty Ltd.
Child Development Institute. (2012). Types of play. Retrieved from: https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/play-work-of-children/pl1/#.WSEr4ROGN8d)