Did you love making worms out of play dough when you were a kid? How about squishing mud between your toes? Or blowing bubbles into the wind? Those were fun times, but they were also learning experiences that helped you get ready for school. It turns out that there’s more to learning than mastering your ABCs and 123s.
“Experiences that may seem like just play help children make sense of their world, and they learn best when they are active,” explains Sarah Howard, Daniel Boone Regional Library’s manager of children’s and youth services. “What we call ‘sensory play’ allows kids to use all their senses — seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and sometimes even tasting. The idea is to offer a range of different materials for kids to experience.”
So how does playing get a child ready to learn?
- When kids mix, sort and pour they are practicing the fine motor skills that help them hold pencils and cut with scissors.
- Creating magical creatures or a gourmet menu out of play dough hones a child’s creativity.
- When children complete a project based on their own plan, whether it’s a fort out of branches or a drawing of grandma, they feel a sense of accomplishment, which improves self-esteem.
- Playing with friends teaches a child to share, cooperate and resolve conflicts. The need to communicate also fosters learning new words.
- By putting together different outfits or by watching you work on the car, a child is learning how to solve problems and tapping into the parts of the brain responsible for reading, remembering, learning and paying attention.
Sometimes, a child’s creativity flourishes while she’s playing on her own, but she’ll also benefit from you exploring with her. “You can help your children play purposefully by following their lead. Ask ‘What if’ questions, introduce new words and encourage them to try new activities,” says Howard.
Our staff has created a new “Recipes for Fun” booklet loaded with activities and suggestions for educational sensory play. It’s free and you can pick one up at any of our libraries or bookmobiles. You’ll learn how to mix up some kinetic sand, put together a magnetic discovery bottle, concoct scented play dough and much more.
So, go ahead and get messy as you play with bubbles, leaves or goop! It’s not just fun, it’s also a way to get your child’s brain active and engaged in learning. And, at the end of the day, when they’re all tuckered out from all that play, don’t forget to read a bedtime story. That’s important, too.